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November 1, 2012
In The Village
The Extroverted Church?
by Orson Scott Card

There are many different personality types, and every one of them can be consistent with obedience to the gospel and service to the Church.

But as I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, I couldn’t help but wonder if the present culture of the Church expects us all to either be, or imitate, one all-dominating personality type.

Quiet both broadens and narrows the classic definition of an introvert as a person who thrives on solitude and is exhausted by too much social interaction.

We often think of introversion as including shyness — quietness in public settings — and stage fright, or anxiety over public speaking or performance.

That is why there have been outstanding public performers who were profound introverts — people my age might remember Johnny Carson. There are also extroverts who are terrified of public performance, or who simply prefer to remain quiet in conversations.

But Cain treats shyness, stage fright, and introversion as aspects of being “quiet” — and describes how American society, for the past century or so, has switched from valuing quiet people to regarding them as somehow limited or insufficient.

We are at the point where being “outgoing” is regarded as a trait that everyone should aspire to, while shyness or stage fright are treated as pathologies that need treatment.

What Cain says about America seems at first glance to be true of Mormon culture. From an early age, we expect our children to stand up in class or in front of the whole Primary to pray or give talks or recite scriptures.

That requirement only increases, along with the size of the audience, as our young men and women are expected to give talks in sacrament meeting, to bear their testimonies whenever asked, and to conduct meetings, lead the singing, say prayers, and otherwise perform in public.

Then we send our young men on missions, where they are required to talk to strangers all the time.

I know that for me, as an introvert, that’s one of the main things that made me reluctant to serve a mission. While I could easily and happily talk to an audience of hundreds or thousands of people, it was almost unbearable to think of walking up to a stranger, holding out my hand, and starting a conversation.

To me, giving a talk was a solitary action; it didn’t become “social interaction” until there were just a few of us trying to carry on a conversation.

It seemed to me, growing up, that leadership positions went to the extroverts — the people who were eager to chat, to shake hands. People like me became clerks if they had stage fright, teachers if they did not.

Does the Church share American society’s bias against introverts and promotion of extroverts?

Then I thought about the bishopric in which I’m currently second counselor. Because I’m at ease in front of an audience, I’m considered the “extroverted” or “outgoing” member of a bishopric that otherwise consists of profoundly quiet men.

In private, when they’re comfortable, they aren’t quiet at all, of course. They are very effective leaders, full of love and concern for other people, with keen insights into their needs and feelings.

But from the outside, it’s hard to imagine how, if this is an extroverted Church, men as quiet as this ever became leaders.

Then I thought of the Apostles and other General Authorities I’ve dealt with personally. While they are all required to give lots of speeches, and to meet constantly with people they’ve only just met, most of them seem, in private, to be very quiet men.

It is their position that requires them to seem outgoing; by disposition, they do not put themselves forward.

Along with our talks, along with conducting meetings and leading the singing, along with public prayers and testimonies, along with visiting in the homes of other members, we also do a lot of very quiet, introverted things.

We are expected to read and think about the scriptures — a very solitary act.

Key decisions are rarely made through consensus-building, in an open meeting, though many problems are solved and much information must be gathered in such settings.

But when something potentially life-changing is on the line — and every calling in the Church changes the life of the person called or released — the decision is made by a leader who prays and thinks in private.

All those talks and lessons are prepared in private. We’re supposed to begin and end our days with prayer.

In fact, one can make a pretty good case that ours is an introverted society, too — one that requires everyone to be responsible for his own education and understanding of the gospel, through private acts and small conversations.

The extroverted aspects of Mormon culture prepare us to take part in the surrounding culture, which really does reward “outgoing” people and regards shy, quiet, private, and solitary people with suspicion.

But it is in the introverted aspects of our culture that we reach the conclusions and make the decisions that determine our life’s course.

It is in the intimate partnership of marriage and the tiny society of the family that our lives are primarily lived and in which we expect to find our happiness.

It is not with our ward that we expect to spend eternity, but with our family.

We may gather together to gain the broad outlines of doctrinal understanding; it is in private that we fit the doctrines into the specifics of our lives, and vice versa.

The Church recognizes that while our work is to help each other, our individual salvation depends on our individual choices.

The extroverted aspects of our lives in the Church are important, and we should be glad for the opportunity to stretch ourselves if we are not naturally disposed toward such activities.

But we introverts should also recognize that the private study and contemplation that come so naturally to us are just as difficult for and contrary to the innate nature of extroverts.

All of us are required to move outside our comfort zones. Instead of envying others who find easy the things that are hard for us, we should recognize that everyone is challenged.

Let us then magnify what we do easily and well, and embrace the forms of service in the Kingdom of God that seem desirable to us; yet let us also work to improve our performance in activities that we have no talent for, that we don’t enjoy, and yet must be done.

Even if we can’t equal the facility of those who have a natural bent in such directions, we can become reasonably competent.

It will increase our respect for those who do these things well; and it will also make us independent and resourceful enough that no matter what the Lord needs us to do, we at least know how to begin to serve. Then we trust in the Spirit of God to take us the rest of the way.

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