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A place for Mormon introverts
By Orson Scott Card July 8, 2010

There are introverts and extroverts in this world, and when they happen to marry each other, it can lead to much unhappiness until each comes to understand the other's needs.

My wife and I faced this problem early in our marriage. When we disagreed and got a bit heated about it, her powerful need was for us to talk it through and keep talking until it was all agreed and there was peace. My need, just as powerful, was to get off by myself until I could calm down and avoid saying hurtful things that could never be unsaid.

These are both excellent plans of action — unless you are trying to make them both happen at the same time.

Without endorsing even a speck of the Jungian paraphernalia surrounding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I can tell you that when, at the urging of a good LDS friend, my wife and I read the book "Please Understand Me" by Keirsey and Bates, and took the test at the end of the book, it opened our eyes to each other's needs.

Once we realized that the reason our struggles became so bitter was because we both needed a different way to process the disagreement, we have been able to work out compromises: My wife has learned to wait a while sometimes to settle things, while I calm down; and I have learned that when I can, I must talk things through that I would prefer not to discuss at all.

That's inside a marriage. But similar conflicts and misunderstandings about the needs of different personality types can arise within the LDS community.

For if there's one thing that is certain, it's that extroverts thrive in the Mormon ward, while introverts can get worn down to a nub.

Let me clarify a few things first, however. Often we think that "shy" and "introverted" are the same thing. This is not so at all. I've known many shy people who were nevertheless extroverts, constantly seeking company; I myself project an open, outgoing personality in public, while in fact I'm profoundly introverted.

The greatest of all talk show hosts, Johnny Carson, is a perfect example. He made his fame and fortune from entertaining crowds, from conversing with people. No one has ever done it better.

Yet he came away from all such encounters drained and exhausted, and when given the choice he liked to be in places where no one knew him, no one expected anything of him; he loved to be alone for long stretches of time.

Carson, an introvert, was excellent with other people; there are also some extroverts who, while insisting on being in the company of others, have no talent for pleasing them. (No one is more in need of compassion than the hungry extrovert with no social skills.)

Extroverts thrive in the company of others. They come away from meetings and other social events invigorated, refreshed, fulfilled.

Introverts are exhausted by crowds, even if they have a talent for saying the right thing to everyone.

Remember that introversion and extroversion are on a sliding scale. Some people are nearly balanced between them, some are off the charts to one side or the other. And I daresay that both impulses are in everyone; speaking as a profound introvert, I can also say that there are times when company does invigorate me; and the extroverts I know sometimes need to be alone, though only for a while.

Think now of what our Sunday meetings mean to the different personality types. Extroverts come away invigorated, charged up for the week ahead. Introverts come away exhausted, sometimes depressed, and often lonelier than they felt before the meetings.

This doesn't mean that introverts all want to be hermits. On the contrary, all human beings need human company; they need to feel known and valued by a community. And our meetings usually serve this need quite well for both personality types.

The introverts among you will understand what I mean, however, when I say that there have been times I have wished that we Mormons had monasteries as well as wards.

Not permanent monasteries; not lifelong vows of poverty, silence, or solitude. Just places where introverts could go for a while — a week or two, a month — and have no social demands whatsoever.

There could be duties, hard work or study; I'd happily garden or cook or copy out manuscripts (if anyone could read my handwriting) — but we would not have to talk to anybody, not have to worry about anyone else's feelings, because everyone would be minding their own business.

Then I'd go back and pick up my life where I left off, ready now to see all the people I hid from while within the monastery walls.

And thus an introvert could get refreshment while still being considered a good Latter-day Saint!

The happy news is that we do have such times built into our calendars, if we only recognize them.

Four times a year, our normal Sunday duties are suspended. On general conference and stake conference Sundays, most of us teach no classes, have no duties at all; we show up as witnesses only.

What a blessing those four weeks a year can be! And if we have a calling that offers fewer such breaks, we can be relieved to know that eventually we'll be released and given a different calling that may better suit our private needs.

Don't misunderstand: I love my calling, teaching the 16- and 17-year-olds in Sunday School. I never weary of these fine young women and men.

I only weary of the need to engage their attention and be intensely alert to their responses. It's a physical tiredness, even if it's the brain that's worn out and not the limbs.

But, refreshed by conference weeks, I come back with pleasure to do my work.

In other words, conferences are our mini-monasteries, if we use them that way.

Our retreat from intense engagement in the ward. And thus the church makes room for all of us to find relief.

Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card

 
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