13th century poet Rumi once wrote: “There is a community of the spirit. / Join it, and feel the delight / of walking in the noisy street / and being the noise.” This welcoming invitation has struck me ever since I first heard the lines. I wonder, however, if becoming part of the community is as simple as it sounds. As an introvert, it is a prospect that is both intriguing and repelling.
Popularity among peers is often presented as the ubiquitous high school goal, the principal measure of success and happiness—and indeed, I’d bet it’s great to live life when you know people already like you. As for me, while I really do appreciate most of the people I know, at times I unfortunately cannot help but feel burdened by their presence. It’s nothing personal; it’s just that I feel limited by an obligation to conform to others’ expectations of me.
Writer and researcher Susan Cain has advocated for greater appreciation of the power of introversion. One of her claims is that people tend to instinctively follow the opinions of others in a group, especially the most dominant or charismatic person. She reminds us that while sharing ideas is great, we should also value occasional solitude and take the time to develop our own ideas free from others’ influence.
Rumi’s poem continues: “Open your hands, / if you want to be held. / […] Why do you stay in prison / when the door is so wide open?” At times, introversion can definitely feel as confining as a cell. However, rather than always feared, it can and should be embraced as well.