There was a very interesting article in this week’s Newsweek, You and Your Quirky Kid by Lorraine Ali. The article talked about kids who were slightly out of step with the norm, and the pressures they and their parents can find themselves under to try to bring them within “normal” ranges. It touched something inside me, probably because as an introvert, I’m used to being looked at as if slightly odd when I opt out of loud social events that 75% of the population seems to love.
Frankly, I’m a little disturbed by this push for normalcy. The most troubling issue is who gets to decide what normal is, anyway? We’ve already discussed at length here on this blog that what’s normal for an introvert is markedly different than what’s normal for an extravert. According to many un-informed extraverts, all introverts are abnormal or socially backwards. Not!
As I read the article, I shuddered to think of all the creativity in science, mathematics, art, writing, music, that would have been missed if all great, unique minds had been pressured into normalcy.
The author talks about a boy who has bonded with a tricycle rather than the other kids, or the child who’d rather spend recess talking to the hamster rather than playing dress up with the others, or, my personal favorite, the kid who preferred the plumbing pipes and pushbroom to his peers. I’m willing to bet you dollars to donuts that each of those kids is an introvert, which we all know is not abnormal behavior, but rather very normal behavior indeed, if one is an introvert. In fact, their choices didn’t seem irrational at all to me, but perfectly understandable.
The truth is, we really are all odd in our own special way, and part of our social success is dependent upon us stumbling upon others who are odd in similar or complementary ways to our own.
I was also really struck by a quote of one of the experts interviewed for the article. Mary-Dean Barrringer of the All Kinds of Minds Institute had this to say about assigning labels. "We're absolutely appalled by this diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome," says Barringer. (Asperger's is a high-functioning form of autism, marked by obsessive interests and impaired social interaction.) "These are very highly specialized minds, and to put a syndrome on it and treat it as an aberration does damage to kids and families. There are still challenges there on how to manage it, but why not call it a highly specialized mind phenomenon rather than a disorder? That label alone shapes public perception about uniqueness and quirkiness."
As an introvert, that statement really reverberated with me. It spoke to all the mislabelling of my “quiet” behavior over the years. I think we introverts need to look at new labels for ourselves. I'm thinking perhaps we exhibit The Quiet Phenomenon, rather than shyness. What do you think?