The Complexity of Socialising
A couple of things have prompted the train of thought that is the basis of this post. The first was the recent BBC television documentary by Chris Packham about autism and how it has shaped his life. The second was a post over at Massively Overpowered regarding “playing alone together”. The reader comments ended up becoming a discussion of the old “introverts versus extroverts” debate. Both of these have got me thinking about the complexity of social interaction and the stress it may or may not cause to various individuals. Social skills and group dynamics are things we learn through osmosis. The prevailing culture allegedly shapes us, yet precious little is taught formally. Our parents have an impact at the beginning of our lives but then we find ourselves at school for the lion share of the day, trying to get along with a wide variety of differing personalities. Simply put, socialising is complex and to be successful at it by societies standards, requires a very specific set of skills.
When addressing a topic such as this, the first question I had to seriously ask myself was the most obvious. Do I consider myself an introvert or an extrovert? As most regular readers know, I’m not a fan of binary choices when it comes to complex questions. There have been times in my life when I have veered from one extreme to the other. As a teenager, I was the clown of my peer group. I thought it would resolve a lot of issues although all it really did was paint me into a corner. It was not until my thirties that I truly found my social confidence. This mainly came about through working in a field that I enjoyed and felt comfortable in. I also learned how to become a more effective public speaker. Having children also forces you to deal with things and step outside of your comfort zone. However, despite improving my social skills there are still many scenarios and situations I’m not good at. Talking about sport and dancing in public are two that spring to mind. I’m also not a big on “hugging”. But the fact remains, I can be social and deal with such situations. For me, the key to success lies in picking and choosing how and where I do it.
Writing is a form of communication and social interaction that I especially enjoy. Mainly because it’s a medium that a lot easier to manage, rather than a face to face Conversation. I am also confident when it comes to podcasting, for similar reasons. I tend to record with people whose company I enjoy and know quite well. However, despite our best efforts none of us gets to deal with life exclusively on our own terms. Especially if you’re in a relationship, as you have to make concessions to social situations. For example, I have a wedding coming up in December. I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to it. It’s not a case of I’m bad in these sorts of social situations. It’s a case of I don’t care for them. It’s not as if my presence is essential to the success of proceedings, plus I really don’t dig small talk and the low-key conversation it is best to pursue at these events. It probably sounds a terrible thing to say but these situations bore me. I appreciate that very few people are raconteurs of the calibre of Stephen Fry, Peter Ustinov and Michael Winner. I don’t expect that. I just feel that it would be a far better use of my time if I applied it to something productive, rather than some pointless social banter with strangers.
After watching the aforementioned documentary about autism, I raised the question as to whether I was possibly on the spectrum with my significant other, due to some of my personality foibles. I meant the question genuinely and was certainly not making light of such medical conditions. She said that it was unlikely that I was, because I could cope with all the social things that Chris Packham can’t. The difference was where he is incapable, I am simply unwilling due to my “personality”. So, it would appear that I have no diagnosable conditions that affects my behaviour. I am merely a curmudgeonly git. She further added that despite my reticence to be social and participate in events of that nature, I was very much a product of my generation and broadly culturally conditioned not to be rude. Hence, I do grudgingly participate. On mature reflection I conceded that this is indeed true. However, that doesn’t alter the fact that if I could avoid the entire wedding scenario I would.
Overall, I believe the reality is that I’m neither introvert nor extrovert but somewhere in the middle. I enjoy the company of handpicked friends and when the mood suits, can be quite gregarious. I am also comfortable when left alone. I don’t mind my own company. I guess what I balk at, when considering the wider discussion around this topic, is the usual binary viewpoints. Introversion should not be seen as something that needs to be fixed, especially by extroverts. I believe everyone is somewhere on a scale between those two positions and chooses to deal with the world on their own terms. As for extroverts, they can be a very positive force for good in life. They can often provide a rallying point through the strength of their personalities, be supportive individuals and be good representatives for causes and charities. But they can also be extremely wearing and tedious people, taking up all the oxygen in any given social space. We need as a society to shift the focus away from these two extremes and encourage an understanding of all personality types as well as a recognition that socialising isn’t governed by two approaches.