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The Introvert-Extrovert Spectrum

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Gandhi

Rosa Parks. Mahatma Gandhi. Warren Buffett. From the American Civil Rights movement to the protests against British rule for Indian independence to one of the most successful businessmen and investors, these three figures share something very interesting in common: they are all introverts.

The word “introvert” tends to have a negative connotation in today’s society, at least in the western world. Unfortunately, we relate introversion with being antisocial, nerdy, and a bookworm. It is easy to misinterpret a preference for a deep one-on-one conversation in a quiet café instead of small talk amongst many people in a crowded bar as being “less social” when it is, in fact, merely a different way of social interaction. Thus, not only are these conclusions untrue, but they are also vast oversights and do not do justice to the psychological and social developments that have yielded these personality types and the vast qualities harbored within them.

From a macro view, it is not hard to see why these connotations exist: in our society, we tend to value – and even put a premium on – an outgoing, confident, popular person, whether it is in business, politics, or our friend groups. However, with our affinity for these qualities, or as Susan Cain calls “The Extrovert Ideal” in her breakthrough book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, we can easily overlook the significant role introverts play in society, even in all the same areas that seem to be dominated by outgoing people.

In fact, as Cain documents with extensive research and case studies, introverts possess many characteristics that allow them to succeed and excel at an array of tasks, even those for which we assume success to be limited to extroverts. From their critical and deep thinking, to their persistence, humility, and diligence, to their ability to listen and be aware of others’ thoughts and feelings, introverts have an innate way of viewing and interacting with the world around them at a profound level. This often-overlooked approach and demeanor, when coupled with a passion for success, allows many people to quietly rise to the top, affecting change in their own way, whether it is in the business world, politics, entertainment, education, etc.

Therefore, it is not a coincidence that many of these characteristics appear in some of the most successful people in the modern world. In fact, the CEO’s of the 11 “great” companies in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great exhibit many of these qualities, in addition to their business savvy and industry knowledge, and not the characteristics we typically associate with the “corporate leaders” who run multi-million (or billion) dollar companies. For these CEO’s and many other successful people, their humility, persistence, and ability to tap into the ideas and feelings of those they manage, perhaps even deferring to them instead of promoting their own agendas, allow them to achieve unparalleled, sustained success.

Cain explores the sociological trends toward extroversion, a deviation from the culture of character that existed centuries ago to the culture of personality that evolved with the industrial revolution and the emergence of corporate America, in which people marketed and sold themselves through their personality to get ahead. Interestingly, however, the views of introversion and extroversion differ across the globe, with western and European countries tending to favor the Extrovert Ideal while Asian countries fostering the qualities we tend to associate with those who are introverted.

Nevertheless, there is no term that can be applied absolutely to one’s personality. In fact, the words “introvert” and “extrovert” themselves are almost unfair to use because each person and their characteristics are so complex; they simply cannot be embodied in one distinct label. Our personalities are the combination of our inherited temperament, our upbringing, the various situations we face on a daily basis, and all the other natural and environmental factors that influence our personal development. However, most of us can tell where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum when examining characteristics such as sensitivity, nervous system reactivity, outgoingness, shyness, empathy, guilt, anxiety, and many other personality traits and social preferences.

The important part though, is that no matter where we fall on that spectrum, whether one enjoys being the center of attention and giving inspiring speeches to a large crowd or cherishes a more intimate conversation and exploring complex problems and deep topics, it is imperative that we are aware of the two sides of the spectrum and respectful of everyone’s disposition. In only this way can we develop a society that allows one to be his or her true self, whether an introvert or extrovert, cultivating the many different and unique talents, skills, and qualities that each individual possesses.

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Mindfulness in Modern Society

Mindful: adj. – attentive, aware or careful; inclined to be aware

We have information at our fingertips. Smartphones, iPads, laptops, and other devices allow us to constantly engage in this new age of knowledge, an era defined by constant updates via social media and its vast network that allows information to spread as soon as it becomes available. Bombarded by emails and capable of working from home, we field phone calls and reply to memos as we drive our children to weekend sporting events, one eye glued to the screen of a mobile device while the other tries to watch our children perform; the workday never actually comes to an end.

From incredible connections with friends near and far, to seemingly limitless productivity, to an unbounded scope of potential to learn and spread ideas and information, technology has brought us together in an otherwise expanding and diverse world. We are capable of doing anything at just about any time; however, while inundated with that opportunistic information, are we truly mindful of what we are doing?

Despite the fact that our “minds are full” of different ideas, constantly jumping from one thought to the next as the influx of information proceeds, are we less aware of our surroundings, feelings, thoughts, and emotions, especially as they relate to our current experience? Perhaps we have compromised some quality for quantity, and in doing so, have actually lost the ability to completely focus, becoming less productive, efficient, and self-satisfied while dealing with greater pressures and stress.

In an ironic fashion, the ability to connect has actually caused a strong disconnect. We are a part of so many different things that it is nearly impossible to embrace the moment and experience it for what it really is, being mindful of everything it embodies, and gaining from it everything that we truly intend.

The article, The Mindful Revolution: The Science of Finding Focus in a Stressed-Out, Multitasking Culture, written by Kate Pickert and published in TIME Magazine the week of February 3, 2014, further elaborates on these ideas. It expounds on the concept of mindfulness, citing interesting research and empirical studies pertaining to the neuropsychological effects and processes that underlie the way we go about our lives.

We live in an unprecedented time in which the access to information is limitless. The information will always be there; perhaps our approach to it is what matters. Our mindfulness may change our experience, allowing us to truly engage in a world replete with ways to divert our attention.

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The Determinants of Success and Wellbeing

Is it fate that allows one to excel while another falters, a pre-determined plan and path for each to follow? How do our decisions and choices affect our lives, especially when coupled with the opportunities that fate presents? Why is it that a select few are in Sochi, Russia this winter to participate in the Olympic Games while the rest of us are merely spectators? Were they chosen? Did they earn it? Was it luck? Perhaps more importantly, does all that even matter: fate, choice, and luck? In fact, is it our perception of the hand we are dealt – our genetics, the opportunities that we encounter, the many other internal and external variables – that ultimately determines our success and wellbeing, both of which are relative to each individual? That individual is the only person truly cognizant of everything that comprises their path and journey and the cards that have been dealt.

As world-class skiers weave down the slopes of Sochi and graceful skaters twirl on the ice of the Olympic Village’s main stadium, hoping and dreaming like all the athletes of the Winter Games of standing on the award podium, it is interesting to wonder how they arrived in that position and imagine the road they traveled to that success and happiness. It does not have to be an international sporting spectacle to provoke such contemplation: what makes the neighborhood Italian restaurant so successful? Why are Picasso’s paintings displayed at the Louvre but the homeless street-painter who exhibits remarkable talent yearns to sell his pieces for a few dollars each? What separates a “good student” from one who struggles? Why does one person’s idea spread and gain steam while another’s never gains traction, a potential business and entrepreneurship halted while another takes off?

In his best-selling books Outliers and The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell addresses these sociological and psychological questions, exploring the reasons why certain people succeed and why some ideas become trends instead of fizzling out. It is too simple and easy to ascribe one’s success and wellbeing merely to luck or genes or fate; for all of these deep ideas actually overlap, coming together to form a person’s life. The external factors cannot be ignored: when one was born relative to a cut-off date or societal change, the socioeconomic and familial environment that fosters a child’s development, the connections one has through his/her social network to spread an important idea. Nor too can the choices one makes be neglected in this analysis, because for each opportunity that presents itself, an individual makes a decision to seize it or let it pass. It is those decisions and choices at each stop along the path fate has provided that help shape one’s success and wellbeing in life.

Although Gladwell analyzes the path to success and wellbeing from an external level, breaking down all the variables that makes one person climb to the top (such as the necessary 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in one’s craft), the internal perception of one’s journey may have an equally or more profound impact on those two values. No matter the circumstances – the events, hurdles, triumphs, etc. – one always has the ability to interpret those situations, creating meaning through one’s attitude towards the events along the path. It is this existential ability that allowed Viktor Frankl and Elie Wiesel to persevere through dire circumstances and make the most of a seemingly unfair hand that was dealt their way. As Viktor Frankl describes in Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Despite any external factor that influences a person’s life, one’s outlook in that situation cannot be touched. We have the choice to embrace the situation or change it, and if altering the situation happens to be out of our control, we can change how we perceive and interpret it, creating a reason in an otherwise irrational and hopeless circumstance that prompts the questioning of life itself. There is no right or wrong choice – giving up instead of persevering – for it is ultimately the individual’s journey and perception that matter, finding the reason amidst one’s external environment.

It is that perception that goes a long way in determining one’s success and wellbeing. Whether a gold medal is hanging around your neck or you are just watching, only you truly know the path you have taken and every aspect that makes it your unique journey and the reasons behind it. Your true success and wellbeing can only be determined by the value and emotions that come from within.

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A Veteran’s Story

Like so many of his fellow comrades, my grandfather, Paul Kiritsy, did not realize what he was about to get involved in when he enlisted in the armed forces during World War II. Young and naïve, his eagerness to support his country outweighed any possible consequence, as it did with all those other brave soldiers.

At the age of 18, my grandfather joined the Navy, and once he had completed basic training, he was sent to the island of Okinawa. It was late in the war and, not long after he arrived on the recently invaded island, the US dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. When the second one followed on Nagasaki, the war was effectively over.

I am not sure exactly what my grandfather saw during his time in the Pacific: the loss of life, the wounded he tended to with his novice medical skills, the sacrifice, the patriotism, and the freedom. My grandmother has shown me a picture of him in his military uniform, barely old enough to cast a vote yet ready to lay his life on the line and potentially take others in the name of freedom, democracy, and the American Dream. However, pictures do not describe the true experience of war.

Upon his return, my grandfather combined his creative mind with his unparalleled people skills to succeed as a businessman and entrepreneur. A proud father of five and a loving husband with a lucrative business at his control, he was on top of the world after not even knowing if that same world would have existed a decade or so prior. And that’s when it all came crashing down, like a wave on the coast of Okinawa so powerful one can barely escape its force.

On a cold December night in 1973, three decades removed from World War II with that experience having become a distant memory amidst the joys of his family life, an electrical fire engulfed his home while his family slept. Standing there in the middle of the night looking at the charred property, that loss was paled to a greater and incomprehensible loss; his third child died at the tender age of 16 that night. He lost his daughter, his children lost their sister, I lost an aunt I would never meet, the world lost a beautiful person.

His family grieved; his business floundered; his will to live and to enjoy life wavered. It took many years for him to overcome that battle, one that probably still persists deep inside a hurting heart and soul, for a parent’s love for a child never ceases. Years later the wound of that battle remained, but the love and zest for life returned in the happiness my grandfather has enjoyed as his family grew.

Despite any hardships he had endured, whether it was World War II or other personal wars of emotions, my grandfather has always exhibited a passion for life, one tied to the American Dream. He marveled at the innovations of mankind, the good that could come from camaraderie and collaboration, the beauty of life and the world around us. I sat next to him and he told me of the endless orange groves and the sunshine in Florida which he, his wife, and his first child (my father) saw only a few years after World War II. He drew out diagrams of buildings that left him in utter amazement, engineering feats that he challenged me to one day surpass. We looked at the Twin Towers, the signature of that incredible Manhattan skyline, unaware that an attack on those very buildings would prompt more wars, more loss of life in the defense of freedom, and more veterans that would lead their own lives in the aftermath.

Today my grandfather is fighting a different battle: age. Incredible heart, mind, and soul are accompanied by a body that does not want to completely cooperate. Each day he makes strides to walk but he has been stuck in a rehab center for several months, yearning for home and his family as he tries to regain the strength to walk. He takes those steps, unsure if his body will support him and seemingly learning how to walk as if he were only months removed from the womb, frustrated and now somewhat hopeless. The cycle of life is evident, for better or worse.

Yet when I go see him today, his eyes will tear up with love, as they do when any member of his family comes to visit. All the battles and wounds he has endured will never take his beautiful heart and spirit. It is that undying spark of life that defines him. It is that passion that sent him to Okinawa to defend freedom and the American Dream, and he is happy knowing he played his role in allowing us to pursue our dreams in a free world.

An 88 year old husband, father, and grandfather who has experienced more than I could ever imagine, today I honor a veteran and a hero in every sense of the word. Thank you, Pop.

To all our veterans, thank you for your service and incredible patriotism. We live in a free and better world because of you.

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At the Crossroads of Progress & Tradition – Volume 2

As I perused the New York Times article today that summarized Pope Francis’s stance concerning the Catholic Church, I could not help but think of the very similar words that I heard nearly three years ago from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Patriarch Bartholomew’s words prompted me to reflect on the importance of preserving tradition while progressing as a society, and how the Church is dealing with those seemingly conflicting developments. At its crux, his speech, which was at the core of my first article At the Crossroads of Progress & Tradition written nearly a year and a half ago, conveyed the message that those developments are not in fact conflicting nor mutually exclusive. When the essence of the faith – love –  is truly examined, understood, and embraced, we can progress without losing the integral elements of the past.

Similarly, Pope Francis confronted this very issue in his recent interview. He spoke of the need for an equilibrium between tradition and progression, between the details of the Church’s doctrines and the underlying intrinsic message of the Church. In his own words, Pope Francis said,

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. We have to find a new balance. Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

In an ever-changing and expanding world, we are constantly facing issues that seem to rub up against the teachings of the Church, the friction of which often causes many to seek to determine a “right” and “wrong.” The moral dilemmas of abortion, contraception, or gay marriage, among many others, are not only the headlines in politics but also in our respective faiths at times. However, Pope Francis’s take on these issues echoes the aforementioned importance of recollecting and concentrating on the core message of the Church. As Pope Francis once said when questioned on the Church’s view of homosexuality,

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”

Just as the Pope teaches us to “consider the person,” a more global and inclusive outlook than focusing in on his/her sexual orientation, it is imperative that we stay true to that global and underlying message of our faith and not lose track of it amidst the minute details pertaining to the Church’s doctrines or teachings. Those doctrines and teachings are certainly important, but as Pope Francis said,

“The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”

It is no coincidence that love is at the center of the Pope’s outlook for the Church, just as it was the foundation of the Patriarch’s speech in the spring of 2012, for love (and its inseparable partner, forgiveness, which I will group together with love in this article) is the essence of the Christian faith. In fact, this virtue transcends religion; love brings all of humanity together and allows more than 7 billion people (all different in one respect or another) to co-exist in this world.

The Pope’s words, which reflect those spoken by Patriarch Bartholomew in many ways but most importantly concerning this fundamental aspect of our faith, are not only encouraging and important from an ecumenical standpoint, but they should be taken to heart by all of us, regardless of one’s faith or one’s location on the liberal-conservative scale pertaining to religion, politics, morality, etc. Our society continues to change, with more people living in this increasingly interconnected world and more ideas being spread across it. There will never be one prevailing truth regarding every issue and disagreements will always exist. However, if we can avoid becoming entangled in each detail and focus on that underlying meaning that unites and connects us, we shall live in a more inclusive world. For as Pope Francis said,

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

As I read the Pope’s word’s today, it was easy to see the irony in the fact that the two leaders of the sects that once split due to slightly differing ideologies concerning a few teachings during the Great Schism of 1054 are now embracing the same outlook for the future nearly a millennium later. That outlook consists of focusing on the integral elements of our faith that bring us together, and not allowing the smaller issues to drive us apart. However, I then realized that it is only ironic in a historical sense not from a standpoint of religion or humanity; the foundations of our faith have always remained constant despite any changes on the periphery. As we move forward, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and everyone from different sects and religions altogether need to embrace that universal element of humanity: love.  We should hold onto that integral ideal from past tradition and continue to progress and evolve with it in mind, finding and preserving that important balance. In doing so, we can create a world that both the Pope and the Patriarch envision, and we can truly progress.

“True progress is a balance between preserving the essence of a certain way of life and changing things that are not essential.” – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

 

(If you would like to read the entire article from which I pulled the excerpts above, here is the link: Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion)

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