As COVID-19 clears calendars around Malaysia and the world, introverts everywhere breathed a guilty sigh of relief and couldn’t help but feel a quiet, smug satisfaction. Of course, it’s wrong to feel happy about a global pandemic wreaking havoc across the lives of innocent people and upending social reality. But despite all the news about the jarring ‘new normal’, self-isolating is nothing new for introverts who arduously avoid social interaction.
Who can blame them? In a world made for extroverts, introverted behaviour is at last universally celebrated and regarded as an unequivocal force for good. Think about it. Open-plan offices, compulsory team-bonding activities and after-school clubs are just some examples of how extroversion is rewarded, even expected, in present society.
The loudest and most gregarious people often earn the most attention and admiration, while reticence and voluntary social aversion is viewed with a mixture of vague disapproval and pity.
People who don’t enjoy going out are often suspected by their extroverted peers to be misfits or otherwise aberrant in some way; villains in our culture are constantly depicted as socially awkward loners who finally unveil their intrinsic evil in the final clash against the extroverted hero.
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Before the Movement Control Order (MCO), to FFK on a night out at the boba café with your friends in favour of #dudukrumah would have made you a disloyal friend. Now, it’s noble. COVID-19 and the MCO have permanent repercussions, but one tiny silver lining is, for at least a few weeks, the introvert community’s enormous burden is relieved.
Introverts are the lesser personalities no more and can shut their doors on the face of a culture that pressures them to fake extroversion! They are not freaks but altruistic heroes upholding crucial new social mores, from a safe distance.
Perhaps for the first time, extroverts are suddenly in the introverts’ territory. Introverts don’t need to rack their brains for plausible excuses not to go out anymore; instead it is extroverts who must adapt to the deafening silence of homebound isolation.
Extroverts coping with the MCO are attempting to bridge the gap in their abruptly clear social lives, virtually. Bedrooms which were once exclusively for relaxing away from crowded offices, gyms and restaurants now serve all those purposes at once thanks to the miracles of technology.
The truth is, as much as social media imagines that introverts are gloating at extroverts suffering under the strictures of the MCO, introversion and extroversion is a false dichotomy. They aren’t mutually exclusive personality traits! Introverts sometimes crave an afternoon of yumcha at the mamak just as extroverts occasionally crave watching a film alone at home.
The distinction exists more as a way to describe the way different people recharge: through sipping Milo on the sofa and scrolling through buzz@unifi or through connecting with other people. It’s much more grey than black and white. Though most people have a more dominant side, everyone falls somewhere on the scale between the two extremes.
Both groups face unique challenges in the MCO. Though introverts might enjoy spending the majority of their free time alone, they might not necessarily enjoy the lack of options. A common lament from introverted friends is that they would still have appreciated that invite to lepak at Sunway Pyramid just to feel included, even if they wouldn’t enjoy going.
Introverts who enjoy hiking through Bukit Broga, or treating themselves to an evening at the nearest cinema certainly aren’t loving our new homebound situation.
Extroverts, on the other hand, are faced with the bizarre issue of enervation from constant video calls — from school, work, family and friends. Video calls, unlike face-to-face interactions, can quickly feel like inescapable business meetings. You can’t wander off into private one-on-one conversations or go outside for a breather like you can at physical gatherings.
In times of stress, extroverts with their reputations as ready conversationalists can feel that they shoulder a heavy responsibility to be constantly available to friends and family looking for someone to talk to. Besides, there is no real excuse to refuse because we can’t go out. So perhaps, extroverts and introverts can learn from each other how to set healthy boundaries and figure out the best way to communicate their own needs.
Ultimately the true purpose of these social media memes isn’t to trivialise the real and frightening crisis we’re in, nor to pit introvert against extrovert, but to provide a bit of humourous escape.
So, hang tight and remember, we are all going through this together!
#sTayhoMe #stayConnected #staystrong #stayhealthy #stayupdated #stayinformed