I’m an introvert. Most people look shocked when I tell them that, probably because it comes up after they see me speaking in front of a group, starting conversations, or commanding a discussion. I smile and tell them that the meaning of introversion has nothing to do with being shy but everything to do with energy. They usually smile back, as if a light bulb has gone off and something they never understood about themselves came into view.
It’s one of my favorite conversations to have.
As sociable introvert, I thrive on these sort of meaningful exchanges. I dive right into authentic topics, and it guides me through a world bent on extroversion.
Growing up, I can’t say I struggled to adapt. My mom tells me I’d walk up to random people as a little girl just to chat with them (much to her own deeply introverted chagrin). She never thought in a million years that I’d be an introvert when I grew up, and quite frankly, neither did I.
But introversion explains so much about me – why I usually had only one or two best friends (and kept everyone else at a friendly distance), why I loved spending hours in my room alone dreaming up stories, and why I preferred quality time over anything else.
I feel like a liaison of sorts – someone who can survive long enough in an extroverted setting to set the record straight about introverts, as well as someone who can champion a more sensible balance between the two worlds.
Some Schools’ Inclusion Policies Are Harming Introverts
But just when I think I see progress, something else flies past me that I can scarcely believe (open offices, anyone?). It usually resembles a policy that some smart, important people think is for the greater good.
And it has extrovert written all over it.
One such story came to my attention with Prince George’s first day at school. The headline read, “Pity poor Prince George – discouraged from having a best friend at school.” I was shocked. I did some digging and it turns out that Prince George is attending a choice prep school, Thomas’s Battersea, that discourages best friends as a form of an inclusion policy. It’s not a new idea either. To make sure no one feels excluded, no one can have a favorite friend.
Can you imagine?
To me, this is a horrifying prospect, like an introversion purgatory. Days filled with constant group projects or small talk that never ends? I can just see the groupthink blooming now – and I can picture the deeper introverts barely able to get through one conversation before having to jump to the next, avoiding favoritism.
That’s not to mention the party policy. Everyone in the class needs to be invited to parties if the invites are given out in class. While this may be reasonable so no one is publicly excluded, kids still know what happens after class. Which means that some little introverts are stuck with a group party or none at all. For some, that may be fine. But for introverts like me, who thrived off close, intimate friendships, it would be utterly disappointing.
One of my favorite party memories was when I had just my two best friends over, ate white cheddar popcorn instead of cake, and watched Lion King 1&½. It was by no means an incredible party — but imagine if I had to invite the whole class? My poor mother would have died. That many people at once in her house? I wouldn’t have known it then, but she’d probably have prepared herself by breathing into a brown paper bag.
Complete and utter inclusivity isn’t necessarily the purest form of kindness. While I managed myself well in group projects, I still preferred to work independently. And when it was time to pick partners, I darted to my closest friends, so I could avoid the energy-draining act of amiable and distant collaboration. Am I capable of it? Yes. But I know others, my mother included, who would become practically lifeless under these conditions.
Exclusive friendships were pivotal to my survival in school, even if I didn’t know it. They were my energizing station after hours of “appearing” like an extrovert, even if I didn’t realize that either. It hasn’t changed. In fact, the need has only deepened as I’ve aged.
Not Everything Can Be Learned From a Group
So what happens to kids who have a best friend and the relationship falls apart? Well, in my experience, you break and then you heal. It’s happened to me several times. I still feel some of those losses even now. Sometimes it was deeply devastating. But if we’re under the notion that we can protect kids from the ebb and flow of relationships, we’re crazy. Disqualifying exclusive friendships to prevent kids from losing said friendships is like discouraging adults from marriage to spare children the possibility of divorce. That’s not real life.
In real life, you have a best friend in kindergarten who plays horses with you on the playground. Then she ignores you when she moves to a new homeroom in first grade (or so you assume). But then you reconnect over Guardians of Ga’Hoole and Warriors and story writing. Now you can’t imagine life without her.
Or you live at boarding school with the most amazing person ever and form one of the deepest bonds imaginable, only to have it splintered into pieces when you go to college and get married. And now you’re not sure life will ever be the same.
But trust, intimacy, and self-discovery are still forged in friendships. According to studies, having a best friend improves our mood, functioning, and our physical and mental health. And for those of us who prefer fewer people in our lives, the freedom to choose that company is invaluable.
Sure, children can learn a lot of things in a group. But I learned the most in closet forts and backyard creeks and on dorm room bunkbeds. You can’t be everything to everyone. So, restricting the natural bonds that happen between people is almost unkind — to extroverts and introverts alike.
I’d encourage any educator, parent, or person responsible for the next generation to consider this: Inclusion doesn’t have to look like everyone is getting along in a group. Because without realizing it, no matter how well intentioned, the desire for inclusion may exclude some deeply sensitive and beautiful people.
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