Coffee bitter, dogs snapping at one another’s noses, overflowing bath water, cheeping of a small house sparrow that has flown into the kitchen to peck at crumbs on the kitchen table. Tenor of a busy morning. And neighbours phoning at 6am to discuss impacted wisdom teeth or hernias with the housemate. The village wakes early.
I am surrounded by extroverts, but I remain an introvert. Maybe I’m a closet extrovert because I like chatting to friends, going out to buzzy restaurants and sitting in meetings waiting for my turn to speak, but I lack the sociable stamina of the true extrovert. On the other hand I am not a wilting orchid, as described by Susan Cain in her new book Quiet: The Power of #Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, reviewed ambivalently by Jon Ronson:
Cain says we’re “especially empathic”. We think in an “unusually complex fashion”. We prefer discussing “values and morality” to small talk about the weather. We “desire peace”. We’re “modest”. The introvert child is an “orchid – who wilts easily”, is prone to “depression, anxiety and shyness, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent”.
No, I have known those kinds of introverts and they tend to be a little too fond of their own company: I am just someone who likes books and daydreaming, would rather go for a walk with a dog than a chatty human. The housemate and I had a 45-minute conversation before she left this morning to do community health work. I had not had any strong bitter coffee yet and can’t recall a word of what we said. I agreed to to do something or other before some or other time. Is this ageing or just sleepiness?
There are chickpeas soaking in a large enamel bowl next to the sink. Bundles of squeaky fresh Swiss chard. On the kitchen table, next to the bread board, there is the notebook with scribbled passages for a stuck novella. And a half-written letter to a friend who lives in Zambia and has no Internet. She sits and waits by the window to see the postman ride up the dusty farm road on his bicycle, waiting for the stamped and franked envelope with familiar handwriting, as we all did once upon a time. I have no idea if my friend is an extrovert or introvert. Loneliness is just part of her given, nursing elderly parents, struggling with poverty and hardship. We write to one another and warm our hands by the fire of words. She reads the great humanist thinker Erich Fromm and quotes this to me:
- Love is the active concern for the life and growth of that which we love. Where this active concern is lacking, there is no love.
- Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as s/he is. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his or her own sake, and in their own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me.
- To respect a person is not possible without knowing him or her; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge.