Introversion in social movements


A week ago I left early from a trainings weekend of the Dutch Climate Movement, in which up to 80 involved people came together to do workshops, have discussions, make plans and have fun. After one day I felt like I had had enough stimuli and it was okay for me to leave. However, later at home I felt a little sad and disconnected. Had I made the wrong decision? That day we had discussed how the climate movement welcomes everyone, including minorities. Now I would like to write about the minority of introverts.

The fact that I am introverted plays a big role in how I experience events like this is. Most often introversion is explained as ‘social interactions cost energy’, whereas for extroverts ‘social interactions give energy’. I personally don’t like this explanation too much, because for me the kind of social interaction makes all the difference. I, as do most introverts, highly value intimate conversations and indeed these give me energy. Meeting new people can give me energy too, but it depends on the context.

What I like better as a more fundamental explanation of introversion versus extroversion is looking at the different ways of perceiving or processing information. In her book Quiet, subtitled The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes that ‘there are almost as many definitions of introvert and extrovert as there are personality psychologies’ (p.10). However, psychologists do generally agree on some points, among which ‘that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well’ (p.11). This means that introverts get more easily overstimulated (and extroverts probably get more easily bored).

I’m just slightly overwhelmed and need some time to take it all in.

For me this feels really real. I do not generally process information quickly. This really depends on the information and situation, but in situations involving many stimuli I just need more time than many others. And really, people are very many stimuli. So in group discussions and brainstorms I tend to just observe and process what’s being said by others, for that’s big enough of a task for me. So I don’t really get to contribute. It’s not that I don’t understand or don’t have anything to add, it’s just that I am slightly overwhelmed and need some time to take it all in.

Maybe this is not introversion but just my way of thinking, but I just want or need to be totally clear about what the others are saying, which takes time. Often the things people say in brainstorms or discussions are not so clear; information is lacking and ideas are still vague, etcetera. Somehow others seem to manage to reply quickly with smart suggestions and such, while I am still processing the previously discussed ideas.

But really, I also just enjoy watching and listening to others. I don’t feel the need to push myself into being more outspoken. I accept myself and my preferences, but sometimes, like today, it can make me feel a bit sad and disconnected.

I really like to feel deeply connected to others.

In the trainings weekend’s workshop about non-violent communication I realised that my most-often felt (unmet) need is the one of connection. I really like to feel deeply connected to others. Often I do manage to feel this connection, but in some situations, as the one of today with too many stimuli for my liking, this is just difficult. I then end up closing up and thereby creating distance, which is the opposite of what I really crave.

In general I find it easy to connect to (other) people who care for social justice, our environment and the climate, for animals; the people who are involved in social movements to make a positive change. These people are generally kind-hearted. I’d also say that many of them are actually soft-spoken, and those kind of people are the ones I find the easiest to be around and to connect to. Just not so much in big group discussions.

So, even though I left because the situation wasn’t ideal for me, I did like being there. I think that if I would have taken some time and space to be with only one other person for a bit, that that would have helped me to connect to myself and the other(s). Based on this I was wondering whether it would’ve been good if there would’ve been more opportunity for that, but actually there was a lot of space to take a little distance. I just didn’t find my way to do so.

Importantly, in social movements there is a lot of space for everyone to do what they like the most. Apart from these social gathering events a great deal of activism is done individually or in small groups.

Social movements are not built from loud, angry people.

Activism takes a lot of analysing and organising. It is not just shouting your message to the public. Social movements are not built from loud, angry people. Every demonstration is organised by a group of individuals doing the best they can, in their own way. Organising activities requires a lot of communication, also in the form of writing emails, and promotion, in the form of writing promotional texts, designing posters, etc. All these things can perfectly be done by introverts who for example don’t like public speaking.

If you take the initiative, others are likely to want to join.

And if you want to organize a crazy action and you need help from someone with different qualities or preferences, you are likely to be able to find it. A friend noticed that very many people are willing to help and get involved, but not so many people take up the initiative to start. So taking the initiative and bringing people together is really useful! You don’t have to do it all alone. But there is a lot of space for more individual activism as well, if you prefer that. You can for example write blog posts about activism.

Earlier I was slightly afraid my leaving would be misinterpreted as me being uninterested or not social, but actually, I think most people would understand. Right? Otherwise this blog post may help to some extent. I wrote it mainly to strengthen my feelings of connectedness, to help others feel more connected and to give interested people more insight in social movements, so to make getting involved easier and more attractive. If you have questions; I may be able to answer! If you have additions: SHOUT! Or calmly write it down.

Take your time to get involved, but surely we do need to take action to stop climate change.


The Author

Harmony-seeking quiet observer learning to speak loud and clear when needed. Acknowledges both the complexity and simplicity of the world. Above all aims to influence the world in a positive way by being a good person.