Hell is other people at breakfast

A writer An editor called Petrona made a comment on one of my earlier articles about depression and arts. She pointed out this article by an American writer called Jonathan Rauch, who is, apparently, a senior writer for National Journal. I don’t know what the National Journal is, but this guy can write. It’s a wonderful, witty article about the nature of introversion, and how to act around your introverted friends. Introverted people, he suggests, are not shy:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

Well, the first two things any reader will do when confronted by this is (a) decide whether or not they are an introvert and (b) count the ways in which this makes them unique and better than everyone else. Here I go: I guess I’m somewhat introverted, but not shy. When my girlfriend and I entertain 10+ people, we always have a good time, but I collapse face-down on the bed afterwards. At the same time, I’ve learned to be virtually nerveless when talking to a large group of people, like an undergraduate lecture audience or the research staff at a university. In fact, I taught oral presentation skills for a number of years, and a kind of mathematics related to artificial intelligence called connectionist modelling – where slightest shred of nerves would have sent my ability to do improv’d arithmetic straight out the window.

Before this blog becomes unreadbly self-referential, I’ll leave the last word to Mr Rauch:

We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts’ Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say “I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.”

Amen, brother. And the title of this post, by the way, is attributed to Sartre.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

One thought on “Hell is other people at breakfast”

  1. Hello again.
    Thanks for picking up on my commment – I agree these introversion articles are very good. (As an introvert myself.)

    I’m not a writer, by the way, but an editor. I wish I were a writer but all I do in that spehere is post blog entries, which I am sure you would not consider the same thing. It is excellent therapy for depression, though, as I’ve noted more than once on Petrona.

    All the best

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