Donald Trump is trumpeting all over the place. His relentless and remorseless statements and acts with a smack of Republican taste have taken over American consciousness by a storm since the last few days, and hardly a day seems to go by when his name is not in the news, for reasons good or bad (mostly bad).
Love him, hate him – you can’t deny Trump, and the key aspect behind his brazen façade – extraversion.
The theme of this post is coupled with one of Trump’s older cause celebres, which has nothing to do with his vitriolic anti-immigration remarks or evasive take on personal wealth, but rather about Trump University aka Trump Entrepreneurial Initiative aka another in the long line of ‘get rich quick’ seminars.
Just a brief rundown on this escapade: in 2005, Trump launched an initiative to replicate himself into thousands of clones (at least that’s how you could look at the affair metaphorically). The venture beckoned those who would listen, with the promises of whispering in their ears Trump’s secret formula of successful real estate investment, promising to turn all of them them into another Trump (see, that’s why I used the word clone), all at a price tag tantamount to daylight robbery.
But that’s not the (only) fishy part; the so called University hadn’t been chartered as a University at all, nor did it hand out any kind of degree to its ‘graduates’. Lack of formal recognition, mentors who vanished like Batman after the seminars never to be seen again, and curriculum that came from an unidentified and undisclosed source, all this made a classic fodder for controversy and, obviously, lawsuit.
While the above digression seems tangential to today’s topic (which is about both extraversion and introversion, by the way), it is actually crucial when you see the whole picture.
What? You still don’t see it? Oh, very well, my bad. The topic’s been running so smoothly like a CD in my head that I forgot about the curse of knowledge, another mindbending phenomenon I will talk about in some other post. The gist you should take away from the last few paragraphs is that the cultural fixation is with personality. Imagine if another multimillionaire yet relatively unknown businessman offered similar kind of program for teaching about getting rich quick. Many, if not most, would have cast a suspicious eye before doling out lumpsum of their hard-earned wages. But because it was Donald Trump, not just an immensely successful business mogul, but a popular icon, a living embodiment of the American Dream, that people were so willing to throw away everything without a single thought.
Contrast this situation with the one almost hundred years ago, when what you said and did in private mattered more than how you appeared in public.
When lofty ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were all rage, before we became preoccupied with the likes of Trump, Kanye West, and Paris Hilton. And looking at this development, you might wonder – where the heck did that come from?
The shift from culture of character to culture of personality didn’t happen overnight, I can tell you that for sure. The change had been gradual, and rose in response primarily to the emerging business and big city culture during the early twentieth century. If you want to get a feel for yourself of the transition, place yourself in the shoes of Joe, a boy who’s lived a good deal of his life in his hometown, a small, agrarian community where he knows almost everyone, from Frank the farmer to Molly the school teacher and her two daughters. You know them not just from their faces or names, but also by their mannerisms, their actions, their honourable (and not-so honourable) conduct, all the information gathered from personal interaction with them as well as from eavesdropping during your mother’s tea party with her friends.
However, when you grow up as an adult and feel like the town no longer offers you big thrill apart from its meager scandals and gossips, you feel the urge to escape this monotonous backwater and move into a more exciting place, and your fantasies are further fueled by a friend who moved out of the town long time ago into a big city and is now working there and has come back all polished and gleamy. He tells you all about its attractions and distractions, and also lets on about an opportunity available for you there of a salesperson. You feel the call of adventure you had been pining for so long, and instantly make up your mind to say goodbye to your own hometown and travel with your friend to this place of dreams.
As you begin your city life, however, you also get to grips with few cold-hearted facts omitted in your fantasies and your friend’s descriptions: you don’t know anyone in the city (apart from your friend), your employer expects you to be silver-tongued but you’re not, your coworkers are always chasing the fashionable trends while glancing disdainfully at your rustic ways, and worst of all, you have to sell door-to-door at slave wages and every door is (literally) shut at your face, no matter how hard you try to convince the buyer of your sincerity and the product’s usefulness.
Although the example I chose was very vague and rudimentary, I hope it does illustrate the reason why character wasn’t seen enough in business, especially in a sales-driven business, with greater emphasis being placed not only on the workmanship of the product, but also on ability to sell it. A business made profit when it sold more products, and a salesman made profit when he knew how to stick a foot in a door before it closed. For doing so, he needed a personality, an armor of extraversion that was built to sweet-talk and persuade, and as Samuel Jackson neatly sums up why a dog is superior to a pig in Pulp Fiction, ‘personality goes a long way’.
If we talk of the most important person who permeated the concepts of extroverts and introverts in popular consciousness, no other name comes to mind closest to a titan in the psychology pantheons – Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist who came up with the ideas of personality types and with which he classified people into two broad categories (actually, he did eight, but we’re not splitting hair here) – the Extroverts, who relish making eye contacts and shaking hands with others, and the Introverts, who feel at ease to be on their own than in spotlight (see, the terms have become so commonplace nowadays that we don’t even view them as technical jargon anymore). Based on his ideas of personalities, Isabel Briggs Myers came up with a personality test, which now bears her name and identifies your personality with four-lettered code (for instance, Donald Trump has personality type ESTP). To understand what this code means and to find out your own personality type, visit this link.
Of course, no one is an absolute extrovert or introvert. We all lie somewhere in-between in the spectrum, although often our temperaments usually lean heavily toward one extreme; you either seem to relish the company of others in a crowded, throbbing club or you prefer to read a book on a quiet beachside (or just observe the waves).
But the important question remains – why are we the way we are? What causes some people to become extrovert and the others introverts?
This is one of the situations where the question statement is single but the answers, like so many things in life, don’t come in black or white. So I’ll try to tackle the solution in parts rather than going for whole at once.
First thing to notice is that, as Lady Gaga sings, we’re born this way. Our introvert and extrovert temperaments (note, temperaments, not personalities) are largely resultant of our brain biology. Amygdala, the part of our brain that underlies our emotional response and acts as our ‘spidey sense’, activates differently in the cases of extroverts and introverts. Usually, an introvert’s amygdala is more easily excited than your typical E’s for the same level of stimulation. For the same reason, infants who are highly reactive to new experiences and sensations, who kick and thrust and scream on encountering new faces and new environments, turn out to be mostly introverts. What’s good for the goose may not be really good for the gander, after all. (This discovery came from a psychologist named Jerome Kagan, who kept track of a group of children from their early, tiny tot years to their preteens to validate this hypothesis).
However, that is not to say that if you’re born mild-mannered like Clark Kent doesn’t mean you can’t loosen your tie and rip off your shirt to reveal your inner Superman. You can do that, overcome your original nature to adapt to the opposite side. You can find countless examples of famous people who were originally gun-shy but learned to master that and rise to the challenge. Dale Carnegie, whose book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ seems to be staple of almost of every bookstore’s motivation section, is quite a famous example. Born a sheepish kid in a poor farming family, little Dale would become so enthralled by a suave speaker from the city that he would take on this journey himself and go on to become granddaddy of self-help.
How is it possible though? Can a person with severe stage fright conquer the dread? Yes, with practice, beta-blockers, and a little nudge from the prefrontal cortex, or the part of the brain responsible for most advanced capabilities of human beings like decision making and problem solving. If amygdala was like one of those old Celeron processors, then prefrontal cortex is the fully loaded graphics card built for hardcore gaming. This is also the reason why you don’t freak out on meeting same people or seeing familiar places, because your prefrontal cortex keeps on reminding your amygdala – ‘Dude, don’t worry. You’ve been through this before.’
There’s a catch involved, however. Prefrontal cortex isn’t mother of your amygdala, who can tell it to do this and do that. It isn’t the master of your impulses, your reactions. This means that some of your fears and phobias are stuck with you, which, at certain occasions, even prefrontal cortex can’t talk you out of.
Furthermore, as Kagan’s protégé, Carl Schwartz, found out by extending his mentor’s original experiment to the same kids in their late teens, you can bend your personality only up to your genetic limit, which means no matter how badly you try to give your personality a complete U-turn, you won’t be able to perform a perfect curve.
Of course, genes are only about half of the story (or about 40-50 per cent, since parents’ nature is inheritable in the kids for the same rate). As we had already seen in a previous post, the discussion related to human nature involves both nature and nurture. For the other half of the story, we turn to David Dobbs’ famous ‘orchid hypothesis’, which claims that many children are able to weather almost any kind of environment (like dandelions), except for the high reactive types in Kagan’s experiment, who wither easily like orchid when trouble comes knocking on the door (unless they are provided a more supportive foundation). To make long story short, kids aren’t alright when they grow up in an abusive or neglectful household, or where parents bicker all the time right in front of them, or in a harsh neighborhood with fewer model citizens and without parents or guardians (which, I believe, is true for all kids, no matter introvert or extrovert).
The justification behind this hypothesis, as put forth by Dobbs, is that when there’s lack of an emotionally stable environment, kids aren’t effectively able to process the serotonin (the chemical in our brain which regulates our mood) as they would have been otherwise. This hits the kids of introvert nature hardest, and they are like the orchid, most likely to suffer as well.
Evolution, as a process, favors the strongest. And we’ve been taught almost all our lives that the person who gets his voice heard in a crowd is usually stronger and better than the soft-spoken one, whose whispers barely rise beyond the throng’s incoherent murmurs. So why are introverts still around? Why not all of us are like razzle-dazzle and spunky like Tony Stark?
It turns out that being an introvert does have its own benefits, after all. For one, if we all became intrepid thrill-seekers who didn’t give a crying hoot about diving from the skies without thinking of the possible downsides, none of us would survive for very long. Compared to the go-getters that extroverts are, introverts usually take a step back before taking any kind of risks. Often that earns them hurtful nicknames like ‘sissy’, ‘lazy’, or ‘cheapskate’, but is actually a boon in disguise. Be it daydreaming that ultimately becomes Harry Potter or Games or Thrones, or insights into subtle problems like global warming or stock market crashes, introverts are usually better suited to the activity of contemplation than extroverts, who are more of doers than dreamers.
When talking about evolution, everything essentially boils down to the survival of a race, aka having as many babies as one could who would be able to withstand the harshness of the world. Extroverts are more likely to have affairs with more than one partner than introverts in their lifetime. However, like a candle, they burn bright for shorter time. In contrast, introverts are like halogen lamps that burn low but stay alive for longer. This trade-off is what keeps the balance.
This is not meant to disparage extroverts, of course. As science fiction writer Isaac Asimov noted wryly in a public lecture, if you had a nuclear scientist and a plumber for neighbors, who would you need when your toilet started malfunctioning in the middle of night? But since the extrovert is already the cultural lodestar, this post empathizes more with the introverts, who are often misunderstood as socially inept geeks with acne and glasses or misanthropes with unhinged minds. Though grossly underrated, introverts are able to take reins and outshine even extroverts when the time comes. Take Moses and Gandhi for example. Steve Jobs may have been the show-stealer who revolutionized Apple and technology itself, but he couldn’t have gotten started without his partner Steve Wozniak, the quiet, behind-the-scenes tech wizard who pieced together the very first Apple computer prototype.
As much as we wished that all the kids learned to step up and speak confidently in front of thousands, or that the world was rid of big egos and bullies, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Like yin and yang, the ‘hot-headed’ and the ‘cool-minded’ complement each-other. What matters most is that we learn to appreciate this equilibrium, and not get caught up in a rush to lynch one side for the sake of another.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet. New York: Crown Publishers.
Cohan, W. (2014). Big Hair on Campus: Did Donald Trump Defraud Thousands of Real-Estate Students?. [online] Vanity Fair. Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2014/01/trump-university-fraud-scandal [Accessed 4 Aug. 2015].
Dobbs, D. (2009). The Science of Success. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/12/the-science-of-success/307761/ [Accessed 4 Aug. 2015].
Jung, C. and Storr, A. (1983). The essential Jung. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Kagan, J. (1994). Galen’s prophecy. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Donald Trump photograph by Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Carl Jung’s photograph by orionpozo (Carl Jung) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Amygdala image is generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Steve Jobs photograph by Matthew Yohe (Own work (Original text: self-made)) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Steve Wozniak photograph by Al Luckow (Homepage of Steve Wozniak) [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons