Introverts Are Not Misanthropes

At least, they don’t have to be.

I read this slice from a John Heilemann interview in which he equates Obama’s introversion with a dislike of people in general. Compared to Bill Clinton (who I’m pretty sure can eschew food and water to survive on attention alone), he says, Obama doesn’t thrive off the glad-handing or schmoozing a “successful” politician must do. Instead, he leaves the legislative arm-twisting to more interested surrogates and stays within a small, close-knit group of advisors.

Here’s the key exchange:

JH: Obama is an unusual politician. There are very few people in American politics who achieve something — not to mention the Presidency — in which the following two conditions are true: one, they don’t like people. And two, they don’t like politics.

KC: Obama doesn’t like people?

JH: I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert.

With respect to Heilemann, I disagree. Not with the notion that Obama probably doesn’t “like” people, but with his contention that his alleged misanthropy is intrinsically connected with his introversion. I’ve written before about my own journey of understanding introversion and how we’re a woefully misunderstood bunch; this newest bit about Obama simply reinforces the central fallacy about introversion, that we don’t like people.

I am an introvert and I love people—in small doses. There’s a huge difference between not liking people and merely wanting to be around groups of people in regulated exposures. Contrary to the popular yet wrong belief, introverts are not defined by their opinion of other people but by where they get their energy. Just because I need alone time does not mean I hate being around people; it means I need to “recharge my batteries” after a long day of being around (usually) higher-energy people.

The Bill Clintons of the world don’t get exhausted by socializing; they thrive on it, and probably can’t stand being alone. But Obama, like me, no doubt cherishes any time alone with his thoughts he can muster in his hyper-active and socialized job as chief executive of an entire nation.

I do, however, agree with Kevin Drum’s take at Mother Jones on Obama’s introversion in one regard: that Obama’s introversion is probably why I like the guy so much. I like that he’s more concerned with policy and getting stuff done than forcing a faux-folksy persona to get a few votes. “I get that schmoozing is part of the job,” Drum writes, “and I also get that most politicians are insufferable egotists who get bent out of shape whenever someone doesn’t pay sufficient attention to them.”

Introverts are not automatically misanthropes, just as extroverts are not automatically insufferable egotists. Since introverts don’t run the world (usually—in that way Obama is definitely a change I can believe in), we need an extra dose of understanding from our extroverted brethren.

2 thoughts on “Introverts Are Not Misanthropes

  1. Ruxman

    The picture isn’t very accurate and I think it’s pictures and ideas like that which help feed the idea that introverts are losers, loners and perhaps misanthropes. The picture sort of states that being at home is synonymous with being alone. I like being alone, but I do it outside my door too. When I go out I might be alone for 30mins followed by 30 more minutes of talking to a stranger. The extrovert in that picture doesn’t realise that he too can go out alone and be as social as he likes…

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