When growing up, it seemed reasonable that some people liked to build and tinker with things as opposed to interacting with other people. I became an engineer and am quite happy working with things rather than others. My like-minded brother thinks we should build on our strengths and not be dragged down by spending time trying to eliminate our weaknesses.
I recently was exposed to attachment theory, the bonding to a person’s mother in the first year of life. There is a category of attachment called avoidant attachment. People with avoidant attachment generally remember little about their childhood and have relationship difficulties. I feel this applies to me. As I understand it, God has preprogrammed development to happen in stages. Once that stage is passed, it is very difficult to recover it. As an example, there is a window in which children learn to speak. If they are deprived from talking with others during this period, then it is almost impossible for them to learn later how to make the necessary sounds used in normal speech. Similarly, if we did not learn how to have relationships when we were quite young, it seems futile to try and develop that ability when we are older.
My brother and I seem to fall in line with the comment from Linus of Charlie Brown: “I love mankind, it is people I can’t stand.” Like most (if not all introverts), I find interacting with people to be draining and eventually need to be alone. My brother is quite content with considering himself a non-people person and feels no need to attend family functions. I am trying to process the concept that God created man to be relational and that being a non-people person is a “defect” that needs to be corrected.
So my question is what is your thought about being a non-people person?
Thank you for writing and expressing your question in such an articulate way. Our guess is that quite a few people will be nodding in agreement as they read your question.
Without writing a dissertation in response, we would like to explore some of your premises. We agree that God created humans to best and most easily be open to certain things at defined stages of our lives. The example you gave, of acquiring language, is one such reality. However, while we might need to work much harder at another stage of life and possibly never have the same proficiency as we might have developed at the best time, that is very different from saying that we should not even try if a window has passed.
It is much easier to learn how to ride a bicycle, play certain sports, learn foreign languages, play an instrument and countless other skills when exposed to them young. However, if one truly wants to attain some proficiency there are role models to follow who prove that you can start at a later time in life. What a loss it would be for someone not to get pleasure from those pursuits.
When your brother speaks of building on your strengths, he is right when it comes to things like being stronger at tennis than at, say, tortoise racing. Or someone with a natural talent with numbers should probably build on that rather than try to write poetry. But in this day and age, for someone to say,“I’m not good at working technology, so I’ll avoid learning to do anything on a computer or other digital devices,” is less wise. Today, almost everyone is online to some extent and, while usage certainly can be overdone, there is great value to be had. Similarly, connecting with others is basic and adds value to every life. As we’d advise even a technophobe to become familiar with a laptop, so we advise even introverts to learn to connect a bit more.
Tending towards introversion or even not being a ‘people person’ (a phrase that might mean different things to different people) is not the same as avoiding relationships. Both of us (Rabbi and Susan) consider ourselves introverts. We recharge our batteries by spending quiet time reading or in other solitary activities and we prefer small groups to large parties. Neither of us is innately good at ‘cocktail chatter.’ Nonetheless, we love and appreciate people. Since our ministry work as well as family often has us surrounded by crowds, we know we must schedule in down time when our lives are busy. We sometimes choose, for example, to stay in a hotel even when we receive gracious invitations from friends. We know we will need some quiet time at the end of a busy day.
Introverts can have very strong relationships. We may prefer a few deep friendships to dozens of more superficial ones. There is a world of difference between that and avoiding people altogether. Whether it is the family one is born to or a group of friends who have become like family, the benefits of having people who feel a loyalty to and relationship with you is a priceless treasure. Yes, that means that sometimes you put their needs ahead of your own and make an effort even if it is uncomfortable. Perhaps you could start by joining for dessert at a family Thanksgiving rather than the whole meal. Prepare questions in advance that you can ask two or three people at a gathering rather than facing an entire room.
There’s no need to be the life of the party or even to enjoy parties at all, but we would recommend that cultivating some relationships is vital to a complete life. If you look around and discover that there are a few more people in the circle along with your brother and you, then perhaps you are more of a people-person than you think.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin