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.