I’m a pretty strange kind of introvert. Every year for my birthday I have a huge party with lots of people and fuss and I’m the centre of attention and I flipping love it. I’m usually good for a one-liner to make the crowd laugh. I sing up the front at church. Aside from the people who know me really, really well, most people would be surprised to hear me call myself an introvert – but I am. I need space, I crave alone time. I was recently on a big group holiday in Kolkata and it wasn’t the cultural differences or the noise or the busyness that I found draining; it was spending an entire week with 14 people with little chance to escape (although if any of them are reading this I’d like to confirm that I did have a lovely time.)
I’m also pretty well-known for going on a lengthy rant about gender stereotypes (quick question: what does “ladylike” even mean? Yeah, my friends really love it when I drop a little nugget like that into conversation…) And I like superheroes and toilet humour and a bunch of other things typically associated with boys. But I also love getting all dolled up, baking and watching Disney princess movies. By the way, these are all things boys can and do like too, but people are surprised that I like them – it’s not my reputation.
As human beings we are all mystically and magically wonderful and complex, whilst also being unable to comprehend how complicated we are. My Dad was completely flabbergasted when I told him that my friend Hope – who wears black all the time and is covered in tattoos – has a massive soft spot for a lovely older man at church who was really nice to her at Alpha. In my Dad’s brain someone like Hope, someone who has a partly shaved head, couldn’t possibly be a big old softie like that – you need 100% of your original hair and unmarked skin otherwise you’re terrifying and you hate people. I laughed at my Dad for thinking it, but then I remember when I met Hope I thought she probably wouldn’t like me because she seemed super cool and I’m a massive nerd. Except Hope isn’t like that. She loves everybody, and loves them a lot. And she’s also a bit of an introvert too – work that one out.
We are all a big mix of various personality traits that come in different combinations, but we can’t compute that information. Once we know someone, and only know them a little bit, we pop them in a box. We give them a label, or a little set of labels if we’re feeling generous, and that’s who that person is. Forever. We say men are one way and women are another way (see, I told you I bring it up a lot). Or we say “oh he’s really quiet” or “well, she’s like that, isn’t she” and that’s it. We see just 10% of the iceberg. We read one page of a person’s life and decide we know the whole story. We pin people down in our minds so we can make sense of them, and end up missing all the nuances that make them special. And worst of all, we do it to ourselves.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve not done something because “that’s not my thing”. I’m not known for it, that’s not the reputation I have, so it must not be for me. How pathetic is that? I convinced myself a long time ago that I’m not very good at making friends, all the while making great friends, lifelong friends, really easily. But because I knew I was an introvert, or because I thought I was an acquired taste, I didn’t notice that the “not being great with new people” label I’d put on myself just simply didn’t fit.
You know earlier, when I said we put people in boxes? I got that phrase from my friends Anna and Holly years ago, when they told me it’s something I do to myself. They were nice about it – they said it’s because I’m a writer so it’s my way of making sense of the “character” I am – but it’s complete crap. People aren’t characters, I am not a character; I am a human being who has been made by an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator. I’m pretty sure no label I could make for myself could ever come close to the weird mix of personality traits that God has given me, or the possibilities he has in store.
So the next time you find yourself making an offhand comment about the way someone is – whether you’re talking about yourself or someone else – catch it. Look at it. Ask yourself why you think that, and where those thoughts came from. My father-in-law is really quiet AND really funny. My friend Nathan is super into sport AND cats. My friend Piero is a massive diva AND incredibly self-aware and, like me, a sneaky introvert. Yes, it’s hard to get your head around people but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. In fact, finding the new things in people, in ourselves, that contradict our pre-existing lists is what will make us appreciate them all the more and, by extension, the incredible Creator who made them.