We were four weeks into lockdown, and I had never felt more of an extrovert. The move to home working, the sudden contraction of my social life, the complete absence of church activities, and the impromptu decampment to my parents’ house meant that – like most people – my world had shrunk dramatically.
The condition of being generally under-stimulated soon left me feeling flat; not quite myself; running at less than 100%. And that’s when I had one of those dawning moments of realisation. Maybe this was something akin to how my more introverted friends felt when life is ‘normal’ – too often generally over-stimulated, and therefore operating at less than 100%.
In her 2012 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain makes the case that the world is set up for an ‘extrovert ideal’. Take the office environment at The Good Book Company (TGBC) as an example. Under normal circumstances, most of our staff do most of our week in a buzzing open-plan office with 35 other people. It provides numerous advantages as we work collaboratively. Now, during lockdown, we’re isolated to our 35 individual studies/dining rooms/requisitioned spare rooms/sheds – still working together, but apart. Yet while we’re all missing each other, it’s no doubt also allowing some staff – depending on their personality – to work better than they did in the office (living situations and broadband speeds aside). While the office environment suited how I like to work, lockdown works better for an ‘introvert ideal’.
‘I’ve never felt more myself than I have in the last month,’ agreed one more introverted colleague – also decamped to her parents, and pretty much living her dream life. And (not that anyone looks their best on webcam), there was no denying that she did look… rested. Less harried by life in general. ‘My prayer life is way better than it was before, too,’ she added. If she’d been a Christian in another era, I suspect she’d have joined a convent. But having been born in 21st-century evangelicalism, she’s instead compelled to go to conventions. And those are very different.
Cain’s book is just one piece of a broader cultural preoccupation with personality types. For TGBC, a Christian book on personality types and the implications for how we do church and discipleship belongs in the category of ‘book ideas that Rachel thinks we should pursue for publication but hasn’t yet persuaded everybody else about’. (I won’t reveal what else is in that particular vault.) The – perfectly valid – argument against it is that the Bible doesn’t really say much about personality types. Whatever our preferences, we’re all called to belong to a body, build one another up, and use our gifts in the service of our Lord.
But, at the very least, the disrupted routines of lockdown (and whatever phased exit comes after it) give all of us an opportunity to grow in self-awareness. New situations reveal strengths and weaknesses, not just in our personality, but in our character. When I pick up the phone and talk to someone, is that mainly to fulfil my own desire for social contact – because I know that a phone conversation will make me feel good – rather than a desire to love the other person and build them up?
What about the way that I do ‘normal’ church life? Is my zealously full weekday schedule about pouring out my energy for the sake of others, or filling up some lack in myself?
Contrast that with another friend for whom every Sunday morning is socially draining (even if spiritually refreshing). But she seeks to pour into others Sunday by Sunday, in the power of the Spirit, because she knows that that’s what love looks like. It’s the triumph of will over feelings, and character over personality. And it’s beautiful.
So too the last few months have given some of us an opportunity to grow in empathy for others; perhaps those who feel as though they spend much of their time operating outside of their natural habitat – at work, at church, at conferences. Perhaps I’ll have my day in the sun (or the office) again before too long. But for now, this moment belongs to the introverts.
Rachel Jones is an editor at The Good Book Company and author of several books including Is This It? and Five Things to Pray in a Global Crisis.