Introverts, Extroverts, Atheists, Americans, and a few Canadians


I left my atheist group primarily because I’m an introvert. When only a few people came to the meetings, I delighted in having something to give. I planned, announced, and hosted events, and did what I could to increase the group’s effectiveness by increasing its numbers despite the fact that I personally dreaded growth. When the attending membership hit eighteen with more people joining every week, I came to hate our meetings. I would work hard to prepare for them, only to spend most of my time quietly hoping they would end sooner rather than later. I soon stopped hosting events, and I attended very few at the new location.

Extroverts aren’t always boorish individuals who are in love with the sound of their own voices, but they often are. Likewise, those who talk the most don’t always have the least to say, but they typically do. A few months before attending my last atheist meeting, I complained (to the steering committee that I organized to run the group) that 20% of our attendees were doing 80% of the talking. A modest effort was made to turn that around. On one occasion, a ball was passed to whomever raised his or her hand to speak, and no one else was allowed to talk until that person surrendered the ball. By meeting's end, it mattered little who had the ball, and it never reappeared.

At the next meeting, the instigator of the ball passing took it upon herself to ask for my opinion from time to time, at which point everyone would look at me in puzzlement as they wondered--or so I imagined--why I needed to be prompted to speak. Her well-intentioned behavior put me at the level of someone with a disability, which, I think, is how I had come to be viewed. I stopped going at all when I became convinced that (a) I had nothing to offer that I wanted to offer; (b) I wouldn’t miss, or be missed by, more than a few, and they could see me outside the group; and (c) the group as a whole had no commitment to inclusivity, a problem that was exacerbated by its large and rapidly growing membership. When a fourth of the people at any given meeting are new, the expressed unhappiness of one individual doesn’t amount to much. 

The group’s membership is now approaching its second hundred, and I can scarcely imagine what it must be like if 30-40 of them actually show up. The thought of hearing all those extroverts looking for any and every opportunity to steal the floor from one another is nauseating. If you theists are right, and I go to hell, it will probably consist of an everlasting replay of just such a meeting.

When I was active in re-evaluation co-counseling, I attended a large co-counseling event in Canada that went on for several days. During this event, the Canadians complained that the Americans were prone to interrupting others, talking over them, and doing everything else they could to monopolize the conversation. Until then, I hadn’t realized that such behavior might be an American characteristic rather than a human one. However, it is true that America values boldness (if not brashness) over prudence, and that we treat other nations accordingly. To this end, we proclaim ourselves “the leader of the free world.” We bomb first and ask questions later. We use Hellfire Missiles to kill foreign citizens on foreign soil. We exploit the world’s poor so we can buy things cheap. We hog the world’s resources. Our secretary of state lectures the leaders of other countries on what America thinks they're doing wrong and what we expect them to do differently. We demand that other nations be peaceful and environmentally responsible, although we make little effort to do so ourselves.

We are a nation without humility, and when you lack humility, you walk over others whether you’re a government or an individual. No doubt the extroverts in my atheist group consider it their right to speak as much as they please. As for those who are quiet, or shy, or need time to think before they open their mouths, well, truth be known, such people only matter in that they constitute an audience for the performance; they can always be replaced.

The picture is of me trying to reflect the feeling of being in a typical meeting. I had just come in from ripping boards on a tablesaw, which is my idea of a good time.

21 comments:

kj said...

i snow, i agree with most of this, but not with your wide brush about extroverts.

i am (mostly) an extrovert and i am also a good listener, a thoughtful respondent, a patient and respectful friend and colleague.

i am sure i am not unusual in this regard. not to say that some extroverts are exactly as you describe them, but beware of stereotypes. that's what starts small and large trouble!

you are someone who prefers small groups. i too. good to know that :^)

love
kj

All Consuming said...

I know just what you mean, as I am very uncomfortable in groups over a certain size myself. And we're talking over 8-10 people here. I don't like people who steal the show and leave others in the sidelines, pretty much ignoring them in some kind of 'survival of the fittest' competition re who can talk bollocks the longest and loudest. Bad manners drives me crazy and is a sure fire way to never make a friend of me. I think what you have described happens in many, many groups of all types too. Americans are indeed renowned for their brash attitude, Britons can have their heads so far up their arses they're tickling their tonsils and can't see the wood for the trees most of the time. There's an arrogance there as well. People. Tsk. I like the photo very much, it works. xx

Snowbrush said...

I apologize AC and KJ for having to delete and then reprint my comment, but I wrote in such a hurry that I screwed it up, so now I'm having to take the time to redo it before I go back to work.

"beware of stereotypes. that's what starts small and large trouble!"

Yes, I generalized, and maybe in one or two placed I over generalized, but I also estimated the number of overly-talkative-atheist-group-extroverts at 20%, yet I would assume that about half of those present were extroverts, so I think that, at least, is a reasonable statement. You realize, of course, that it is simply not possible to write about any group without resorting to some generalizations. For example, I hear from people that the Christianity I criticize isn't their Christianity, and that I should either take every form individually, or I should forbear criticizing Christianity. Well, NO. I will readily admit that there are many wonderful Christians, yet I try to make it clear that the ones I'm writing about are primarily the ones who represent what I see as dominant American Christianity. So, KJ, I'm aware of the dangers of generalizations, and I do try to avoid over-generalizing, but what constitutes over-generalizing is always open to question.

"Britons can have their heads so far up their arses they're tickling their tonsils"

So that's really true? I rather had you figured for a possible (at least a conceivable) extrovert because you like pubs and parties, and although that certainly wouldn't make you more tolerant of bad manners, I thought that maybe you would be more tolerant of big crowds.

Chartreuse said...

Such a penetrating analysis of the national character (and yes, I do believe it's possible - even necessary at times - to generalise in that way). And though I've no doubt there are sound historical reasons why Americans developed in that way, it doesn't always make you folk lovable as a nation. What I find amusing, though, is how my fellow Aussies react after a first visit to the USA, where they expected to find the national arrogance on exhibit everywhere. Inevitably they come back saying, "But the people were all so NICE." Such a puzzle, that.

Patty Ann said...

This is a great blog post! Thank You!

Snowbrush said...

"how my fellow Aussies react after a first visit to the USA, where they expected to find the national arrogance on exhibit everywhere. Inevitably they come back saying, "But the people were all so NICE.'"

I suppose American arrogance is simply more subtle than the British arrogance of which AC spoke, but it is most certainly present in our assurance that we are the number one nation on the face of the earth, and that we deserve nothing less. In the case of Aussies, Americans just love you people because you're all variations of Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin, right? You have this aura of good-natured, outdoors, athletic competency, combined with tongue-in-cheek modesty, understatement, and wry humor, that sets well with the image that a lot of us would like to project. And then there are your absolutely wonderful accents that just make Americans smile their best smiles while clasping their hands to their chins and going, "Aaaawwww, isn't that just too cute" despite the fact that most of them would be unable to distinguish an Aussie from an English one. This inability to distinguish between you and the English probably sounds utterly fantastic to your both, but it is SO true. I know that I used to struggle, but I think I've got it now. I suppose it also true that, just as there isn't any one American accent, there isn't just one Aussie or English accent either, and maybe this accounts for some of our confusion.

Hi, there, Patty Ann, do I know you, kiddo, or did someone new drop by. I hardly ever see any new people anymore.

Thesauros said...

"Her well-intentioned behavior put me at the level of someone with a disability,"

Hmm, interesting symptoms. These meetings, they weren't anywhere in the vicinity of a steal beam in the shape of a cross, were they?

Chartreuse said...

Snow, I have to come clean. Even though my labradoodle has killed two snakes already this week, truth is I myself don't really qualify as a Ms Dundee. I grew up in MA, went to school in NH and worked several years in NY before emigrating to Oz in '69. I am a legit Aussie though, and even had to relinquish US citizenship to become one (something no longer required of immigrants from the USA). All of this gives me even more interest in musing on such things as national identities.

kylie said...

aussie accents dont really vary as much as they do in lots of places. we certainly dont have the range of accents that the brits or the yanks do.
having said all that, my accent swings from outright yobbo to educated and back again depending where i am, who i'm with and what mood i'm in.

so, snow, do you pick me for intro or extrovert

The Elephant's Child said...

Meetings are my idea of hell. An introvert through and through. Which can make meeting new people challenging in the extreme.
Were you serious about liking the Australian accent? You can't be. Surely.

lotta joy said...

The only reason to have a meeting is to schedule another meeting. I've never been to one where anything was accomplished other than frustration.

I am so lonely, and lately in more pain than before, that I think I want a friend. But the only ones who are 'out there' are loud, boisterous extroverts.

Anyone who is an introvert is hiding at home like I do, and I doubt we would want to be bored by each others company.

Do extroverts EVER have a moment of introspection or a self-mute button?

PhilipH said...

Interesting post, as per usual Snowy.
Americans are perceived as LOUD here in the UK.
Aussies are seen as Lager lovers and good-natured.
Germans are renowned for their "reservation by towel" when on holiday by the pool hotel.
The English are "reserved", except for those born in the sound of Bow Bells, (Cockneys), who are NOT reserved, but cheeky chappies.
One could go on, but one will desist.
It's quite amazing how often the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) crops up in life, init?
Cheers Snowy.

Snowbrush said...

Chartreuse, you're one of MY people. Well, kind of, being as how I'm from Mississippi and you're from Massachusetts where everybody talks funny. Anyway, I'm sorry you had to give up your citizenship. Since Bush II, every liberal in this country imagines emigrating to SOMEPLACE, although Canada probably leads the list as it's pretty expensive to ship your furniture to Australia.

"These meetings, they weren't anywhere in the vicinity of a steal beam in the shape of a cross, were they?"

I think you're referring to the steal beam that remained standing after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, but I have no idea why. I just know that I have heard the attack blamed on such "degenerates" as atheists, queers, and liberals, yet the cross remained to point the way to "our once great nation's salvation."

"Were you serious about liking the Australian accent? You can't be. Surely."

Now, it's my turn to wonder if you're serious. I hear American commercials for American businesses that feature some schmo with an Aussie accent because that's just how popular Australians are in America.

"do you pick me for intro or extrovert"

I have never imagined you for an extrovert.

All Consuming said...

"I rather had you figured for a possible (at least a conceivable) extrovert because you like pubs and parties" - no, I don't 'like' people much at all and was painfully shy when growing up to the extent that I couldn't deal with the change from the very small early school - 5yrs - 11ys, to the absolutely enormous secondary school at all. I had a total melt-down and missed almost 2 years of learning because of it. I choose carefully who I party with and who I'm friends with, and I use alcohol, not just to have a good time, but to relax me enough to socialise on a level I'm happy with.But I'm very, very happy with my own company.

kylie said...

hey i'm an extrovert, on the introvert end of the scale and shy as well but extroverted :)

Snowbrush said...

"hey i'm an extrovert, on the introvert end of the scale and shy as well"

I've wondered if there is even such a thing as a shy extrovert because extroverts GAIN energy from being around others (introverts lose energy from being around others). Now, I wonder if you're unusual in this regard.

The Blog Fodder said...

You surely summed up Americans. Whenever I hear an American talking about freedom and democracy, I need to double my meds.
At least you joined a group and hung in for a long while. I have given up on joining groups of any kind. The need to belong is overwhelmed by the desire to strangle someone.

Snowbrush said...

"Whenever I hear an American talking about freedom and democracy, I need to double my meds."

Rest assured that you won't have to double your meds from reading my blog.

"I have given up on joining groups of any kind. The need to belong is overwhelmed by the desire to strangle someone."

I know what you mean. How many times does a mule have to kick a fellow in the teeth before he stops goosing mules? I've yet to find a group that I could stay with longterm, yet others seem to fit in so easily. I don't know how to interpret my own inability in this regard.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Bravo Snow! Excellent points all around & sums up all I hate about groups!

Snowbrush said...

"sums up all I hate about groups!"

I would guess that a lot of bloggers are united in this way.

Strayer said...

Blog Fodder's post cracks me up!