The image of a Stoic is often one of the quiet philosopher, focused on deep thoughts and pondering the way of the world. An introvert meditating on life and writing their thoughts in private journals. However it certainly wouldn’t be right to say that Stoicism appeals only to quieter, introverted types.
In fact, both introverts and extroverts exhibit characteristics that align well with being a Stoic. Stoicism could perhaps even influence positive change in areas where introverts would benefit from being a little more extroverted and vice versa.
By way of broad definition, introverts are predominantly interested in one’s own mental self and typically perceived as more reserved or reflective. Extroverts on the other hand prefer obtaining gratification from outside oneself and tend to be more enthusiastic, talkative and assertive.
“Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.”
Quiet, Susan Cain
If you’d like to further define your introversion or extroversion you can even try out a personality test to be placed in one of 16 Myers-Briggs Type Indicator categories. MBTI does take some criticism by people who say putting everyone into one of these categories is too simplistic but if nothing else it’s fun to see how accurate the results are.
Of course it’s also possible that both types can exhibit some behaviours of the other and this seems to have been prevalent with the Ancient Stoics. For example, Marcus Aurelius spent his mornings journaling, deep in private introspection but in his various Roman roles, including Emperor and Consul, he would have been constantly interacting with, and leading, lots of people.
In this way the Stoics were able to naturally thrive as either introverts or extroverts but could also consider when it was appropriate to adopt traits from the other type. This may be something we can learn from and apply today.
For someone apprehensive about getting too far outside their comfort zone however, there may be some strange solace in research that suggests we can only push so far beyond the way we were born. In her book Quiet, Susan Cain does a great job of detailing this. In summarising research by Dr. Carl Schwartz –
“Free will can take us far, suggests Dr. Schwartz’s research, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer. We might call this the “rubber band theory” of personality. We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.”
We may then have the freedom to pick and choose which skills we’d like to improve without stretching so far that it becomes distressingly uncomfortable. (Like an introvert forcing themselves to attend lots of social events or an extrovert spending long periods of time alone.)
So how can Stoicism help here?
Using the rubber band analogy, a case could be made that Marcus Aurelius default setting was that of an introvert. Regardless of circumstances he was always able to return to himself –
“At any moment you choose you can retire within yourself. Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”
But as we know, there are certain Stoic principles whose adoption is easier as an extrovert. The following table may help to make this point clearer, outlining which characteristics are advantageous to a Stoic and thereby showing how it can be useful for extroverts to be more introverted and vice versa.
|Relation to Stoicism||Related Quote|
|Little interest in getting attention||Enjoy getting attention||The Stoics believed that seeking attention meant a person’s happiness was dependant on others, when it should be the result of one’s own free acts.||“The essence of philosophy is that a man should live so that his happiness depends as little as possible from external causes” – Epictetus|
|Listen more||Talk more||As deep thinkers, Stoics prefer to consider all the information at their disposal before offering an opinion.||“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we speak.” – Zeno of Citium|
|Enjoy private time||Enjoy being sociable||Both these traits could be considered Stoic – on one hand taking time to work and think alone, and on the other helping people as much as possible.||“Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.” – Marcus Aurelius|
|May take criticism too personally||May find it easier to dismiss undue criticism||Stoics believe it is within the power of the mind to be unhurt by the harsh words of others.||“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius|
|Struggle with change||Accept change more easily||Accepting and adapting to change is important for a Stoic as we are constantly subjected to changes outside our control.||“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it” – Marcus Aurelius|
As you can see, there are interesting opportunities for improvement within the context of Stoicism. As an introvert you might feel like you need to work on accepting change more easily, or as an extrovert you might realise the benefit of listening a little more.
Obviously these things take practice and the characteristics themselves may be generalisations but it’s still a good starting point for useful introspection and shows that Stoicism isn’t always about being in a state of quiet contemplation.
If you’re lucky though you may already have a nice balance of introvert and extrovert traits that fit well with Stoicism. You may even be an ambivert!
Either way, keep thinking of the rubber band – there are times when it will be extremely useful to stretch beyond your comfort zone, but you can always return to yourself soon after.
So, when the time’s right, be more introverted. Be more extroverted. Be more Stoic.