The Aversion to Introversion and the importance of listening

Imagine you are a college student sitting in a classroom, listening to a lecture being given by one of your favorite professors on a subject you are particularly interested in. You are quietly taking notes in your small notebook, maybe making a few doodles around the margins to help you remember what you are writing down. The professor pauses for a moment to take questions and pose a few themselves. You enjoy listening to your peer’s questions and the points your professor makes, making sure to write down your own thoughts along with any questions to email the professor later. Time is soon up, you gather your things, and return to the security of your dorm room, but instead of being met with quiet, as you sit down to your desk you notice an alert on your phone, a new grade has been added from the class you just attended. It reads “Daily participation- 0 out of 3.”

My theory is that in our American culture we are taught from an early age something I like to call an “aversion to introversion”; subtle cues that tell us that listening instead of talking, preferring to take time to ourselves to recharge, and working best alone are all negative qualities that are to be avoided and discouraged.

Psychologist Carl Jung first used the terms introvert and extrovert simply as a way to describe those who focus on their thoughts, feelings, and imaginations (introverts) versus those who instead prefer to focus their energy on the more tangible, external world (extroverts).

I must admit, the very nature of extroverts is that they are generally more noticeable when you first walk into a room. They are the ones chatting with the person next to them, they are the ones to gladly raise their hand to answer a theoretical question, and they are the ones who naturally gravitate towards speaking instead of listening. It is easy to understand that teachers would then naturally teach towards these more noticeable traits, over the preferred listening and individual work of introverts.

Remember being in elementary school?

Think about how your desks were arranged. Some of you may have still been in “boring” rows, which, while ideal for listening to the teacher, are not very conducive to group work. Therefore, to correct this “problem” many of us post-millennials were arranged in “pods” or groups of 4–5 desks all facing each other. Teachers would then utilize these “pods” as easy small groups with which students were expected to work with on any subject from math to creative writing. This idea of “pods” has further evolved into full blown constant collaboration and group work in this new, $30,000, Denver, CO classroom.

While I must agree that group work, while laborious to many, is necessary to teach group skills that children will inevitably utilize in their future, what are we giving up when we push listening and individual creative process to the side? Is it possible that we are creating future doers, speakers, and leaders, but at the same time are we crushing future thinkers, artists, and innovators?

The problem begins when speaking is valued over listening. Particularly when people, teachers for example, focus not about the quality of thoughts and ideas, but the quantity of verbal input from each student. This quantity is then put in a place of value when participation must be graded, when talking is often the only means of getting points. This emphasis could be a minor issue, but only if we fail to see its consequences in the larger world.

Think about our recent presidential debates. Was the one who was calling most attention to themselves really the one we should have been paying attention to? We have been taught to value the supposedly active process of speaking while the skill of listening is seen as passive and isn’t as valued. This idea, that listening is passive, is perpetuated when we falsely equate listening with being quiet. Being quite doesn’t qualify as being active, but listening does.

Imagine you lived in a world were instead of getting a 0 out of 3 for daily participation for actively listening, professors gave the opportunity to turn in notes or gave the option to write a quick email for participation points. Imagine that children are not only encouraged, but taught to problem solve, ask questions, and come up with ideas on their own before coming together as a group. Imagine teachers teaching active listening skills and the giving grades based on the quality, not quantity, of speaking.

Imagine if we could move away from an aversion to introversion in our education system, to instead an aversion to passivity.