“There’s never been a better time to be an introvert”, wrote Marie Le Conte, a free-lance journalist based in London. “For people who yearn to stay alone at home, quietly reading books and taking long baths, the current coronavirus pandemic is, if not a dream come true, at least an opportunity to indulge their interests. In fact, chances are their governments have instructed them to do exactly that.” By contrast to those of us extroverts, who flourish when in the company of others, this present period of social isolation is a nightmare!
This led me to reflect on the nature of extroversion as over against introversion. According to Carl Jung (1875-1961), the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, “Each person seems to be energized more by either the external world (‘extroversion’) or the internal world (introversion)”.
- Introverts are more comfortable living alone and being by themselves. They depend on their ‘me time’ to recharge; they become immersed in their inner world and run the risk of losing touch with their surroundings or their outer world. They tend to be introspective and keep their social circle limited.
- Extroverts love to be actively involved in the world of people and things; they are socially active and more aware of what is going on around them. They like to be part of groups, communities and places where they get a chance to interact. The idea of being alone terrifies them, leaving them alienated from their inner selves.
On reading this, I asked myself whether Jesus was an extrovert? On the one hand his enjoyment of parties (see Matt 11.19; Luke 7.34) suggest extroversion, and yet time and again we read that at the beginning or the end of the day he sought to be alone (see, Mark 1.35; 6.46, 47). Or was he neither an extrovert nor an introvert? For although introverts look within, and extroverts look out to others, Jesus looked up to his Father!
But Jesus apart, we are all at one place or another on the extrovert/introvert spectrum. We see this in the pages of the New Testament. Paul and Peter were undoubtedly extroverts, while Barnabas and John were probably introverts.
As for today’s ministers, they tend to be more introverted than the general population. To be precise, according to research undertaken by Michael Whinney, a former Anglican bishop, while 47% of the general UK population are introverts, in his survey of Protestant clergy in the West Midlands, 49% of Methodists were introverts; 58% of Baptists, and 62% of Anglicans.
However, that still leaves a good number of extroverted ministers, of which I am one! I like many people find it frustrating not being able at this time to meet and talk with people. Indeed, when I ‘retired’, the thing I missed was not interacting with people throughout the day. I am a social being, and it felt strange working alone at home in my library, rather than working from a busy church centre – I missed people. And I miss people now.
Thankfully, however, living in isolation is not the same thing as solitary confinement. In the first instance, I have a wife! In the second instance, I have children and grandchildren, who are constantly in touch with us through FaceTime and the phone. In the third instance, we have friends to talk to over the phone – thank God our landline and our mobiles are on fixed plans, otherwise our bills would be terrific. Then we have discovered Skype. As I write, I am awaiting later this evening a Zoom conversation with my fellowship group, while tomorrow afternoon I am due to be having a cup of tea via Zoom with my Rotary Club. Nor should we forget the stimulation of emails sent from thoughtful (or should I say ‘thought-provoking’?) friends.
But, and this is important, this coronavirus pandemic also gives us extroverts an opportunity to rise to the challenge of developing what Jung called our ‘shadow’ side. This is a time to look within and to reflect on where we are in the present – and where we might be in the future. This is a time too to read more widely and to expand our minds and our horizons. Above all, this is a time to focus on the spiritual disciplines of reading the Scriptures and of prayer – looking away from ourselves and away from others, and instead looking to God for direction, encouragement, and strength. There are indeed positives in this social isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic!