Should I watch the news?
Erik Hagerman, depressed at the state of the world, decided to stop reading the news after November 8th 2016. No TV, no internet, nothing. He even asked friends not to talk to him about what was going on in the world. He called it the blockade. It was a one man mission to remain ignorant. He realised he would listen to the news but never do anything with it. This way he was bored at times, but happier and more relaxed.
Was he being selfish? Surely, if he didn’t like the news he should get out into the world and try to change it?
Well, it depends on your way of looking at the world. According to the Oxford English dictionary, an introvert is: “A person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things.” Erik Hagerman had enjoyed a successful commercial career, working in large companies 12-14 hours a day, but now he had made a decision to turn inwards, and tend to his own thoughts and ideas. The psychotherapist Carl Jung, also an introvert, believed that civilisation could only really make an advance if each of us attends to our own inner world. Through working on our own inner ideas and difficulties (which is extremely hard), we can make a minute, but real contribution to the world around us. If everyone just does a bit of work on themselves, rather than trying to change everyone else, then we will make deep and lasting progress.
Erik’s story is rather dramatic, but maybe he wasn’t being selfish after all. Maybe he was being realistic and true to his own nature. Nowadays he makes furniture from his farmhouse, and seems much more content. Just because introverts don’t waste their words, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t engaged in life. In fact, they are often working very hard to find their own unique path through life, rather than simply following social norms. No doubt it is not as materially lucrative, but it provides him with a deep satisfaction that had eluded him previously.
Introverts may have the advantage in being ethical and valued driven leaders. They are less influenced by social norms and external yard sticks of success. They are more interested in staying true to their own thinking and feeling, even if this is out of favour with the organisational hierarchy or society at large. Introverts may also be very creative, as they are adept at nourishing their ideas and thoughts, which may be totally unique.
Just today I read in the papers about a man called Stuart Sharp who had a dream, after his son died, in which he heard some wonderful music. Despite having no musical training, he went on to have it played by the London Philharmonia Orchestra. Realising his dream involved a great deal of personal suffering, his marriage broke down and he was homeless for a period of time. Yet, Mr Sharp, through his introverted quest, has created something from his own depths. Introverts are brave and bold. They reject ready-made templates for living, and search for something deeper and more precious. This is never a straightforward path, but it can bring about much greater and longer lasting satisfaction than the extroverted instinct to fit in.
Psychotherapy is sometimes criticised for pandering to an unhealthy self-obsession and disregard of the real world. However, many people find that psychotherapy also enables a deep and meaningful attention to their unique and personal experiences. In fast-paced consumer culture, psychotherapy can have an extremely important role in helping us attend to our real dreams, rather than those that are constantly being sold to us. Perhaps, as many introverts seem to have found, a healthy self-obsession can actually lead to a more creative and original form of living.
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About Ajay Khandelwal
Ajay Khandelwal is the Clinical Director of Lambeth and Southwark Mind and a psychotherapist in Private Practice