It’s almost a daily occurrence now. On Facebook or Twitter, in an article or mind-numbing listicle, someone is discussing the traits, burdens and/or pleasures of being an introvert. Based on the unscientific sampling of my personal feed, 90% of the narcissistic self-promoters in the world are actually meek and shy introverts.
When us loners aren’t breathlessly talking about how weird it is that we prefer books to people (haha, I’m soooo crazy!), we’re posting the results of a Briggs Myers personality test (or some generic knockoff).
“I’m totally an INFP.”
“Well, I’m an ENFJ.”
“Oh, I could definitely see that. I guess that’s because I’m an ENTP.”
“I kind of figured all of you were CUNTs.”
And when we get bored with scientific classifications that mostly mean nothing, we fall back on the original sugar pill of personality labels: The Zodiac.
What’s Your Sign?
How is it that a generation raised on “Be Yourself” entertainment is so obsessed with conforming to labels? How can we, on one hand, talk so much about how our race, gender and sexuality doesn’t define our potential and value, and then turn around and say without a trace of irony, “Oh, I’m a Cancer, that’s why I’m so emotional”? Why are we so in need of being sorted?
Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t Harry Potter.
I realize that most people who read horoscopes don’t put much faith in them. They read them for entertainment, they read them because they’re bored, or they read them because it’s fun to see how they match up with their lives. But, like the lapsed Catholic who still crosses himself before entering a scary, black basement, there is an ounce of belief in these people.
It’s not faith in the Zodiac (though, obviously, there are people who truly and fully believe in the bunk), but rather a kind of desperate hope that there could be some truth in the predictions. If the horoscope is true, if the Briggs Myers is accurate, if Muhammad is the Prophet, then there is understandable order in the universe.
There isn’t. At least, not in the way you want.
Being an introvert can be great. (Except when it’s not.) There is no question that I fit the label. I fit many labels. I’m shy, I’m pensive, I’m a Wallflower, I’m serious, melancholy, calculating. (Except when I’m not.) I am many things that are really just synonyms for the same trait, which is [fill-in-the-blank].
I imagine, though, that being an extrovert must be pretty great, too.
Except when it’s not.
We have an unhealthy compulsion to be categorized. I don’t like to say, “Because of the internet…” since that’s a very myopic way of looking at the world. I don’t think the internet is fundamentally changing us so much as it’s allowing us to more fully reveal the truest human nature. That said, because of the internet, we are becoming more and more obsessed with telling other people what our label is, presumably so they’ll better understand and accept us.
Am I too quiet? Well, don’t be mad at me, I’m just an introvert.
Am I not assertive enough? That’s just my personality trait, I’d rather create than control.
Am I bad in bed? Must be because you’re a Gemini.
We’re so scared of admitting our failings – of admitting that being less than perfect isn’t a quirk but a reality – that we seek a label for every single possible human personality.
I’m guilty, as well. I am bi-polar. Mostly it’s an affliction I have to deal with to get through day-to-day life and I don’t tend to talk about it in my real world life.* I rarely tell co-workers and don’t bring it up with friends and roommates unless I think they’re someone who will appreciate the conversation, usually because they have a similar struggle. I don’t want to be defined by my condition.
Except when I do. Because at times I do want to wrap myself up in the label. I want to use it as an excuse so that all my worst behaviors and traits can be written off and forgiven. I want permission to be weak.
We are all weak at times, and in those low moments we seek the comforting reassurance that it’s not our fault, not our responsibility. It’s just our nature.
That might be true, but what of it? There are positive traits and there are negative traits. There are qualities to be celebrated and qualities to be corrected. And then there are traits and qualities that just exist, neither good nor bad. I think of it (as I do most things) in evolutionary terms: There is no right or wrong way to be, generally, but there are traits that are more beneficial for particular circumstances.
I have great qualities for being a writer. I have lousy qualities for being a pop singer (even if I do have an ass like Nicki Minaj).
Our incessant need to label ourselves speaks to a great insecurity within us. Maybe it’s because of the constant bombardment of celebrity news and digitally-manipulated images, or maybe that insecurity always existed and the internet is just allowing us to admit it.
Either way, it’s a sickness. Not the insecurity. Insecurities can actually be a gift, a reminder that we are not done yet, that we can always do more to improve ourselves. No, the sickness is the desire to label ourselves, to say, “This is who I am so deal with it.” There are more than 7 billion people on this planet. If the world doesn’t want to “deal with it” they’ll just ignore you, like I imagine most of your friends on Facebook already do.
Nobody cares if you’re an introvert, an INTJ or a Taurus.
We only care what you actually do. So close the Buzzfeed quiz and go create something of lasting value.
*I use this space to talk about my condition on occasion because I want people to understand it, and I want people who are dealing with the same problem to have a place to feel less alone.