St. Exupery’s The Little Prince has always been my favorite book. It took me a long time to figure out why–whether it was the beauty of the French, the whimsy of the illustrations, or the spiritual message that the heart is the source of what is most essential in life. Recently, I discovered it is the celebration of introversion that is at the core of my appreciation for the story.
I think all of us introverts can understand the little boy’s initial disillusionment when he delightedly creates a drawing mined from his rich internal world of a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, only to find that the adults just see a hat. “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves,” the little boy laments, “and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” And so it is with us as introverts, who often find that it is challenging to explain to our well-meaning extroverted counterparts just what it is we are making, how we operate, and why it is of value.
As the story continues, the boy learns to put away his artistic pursuits as well as a vitality and liveliness for sharing his inner world, and instead pursues a career as a pilot. As an adult, attempting to run away from who he is, he ends up stranded in the Sahara when his plane plummets to earth. Symbolically out of fuel, it is here where he begins to reconnect with his introverted core, who arrives in the form of the Little Prince.
Many of us who are introverted go through this very same process, becoming alienated from ourselves, depleted of energy, and assuming that we are failures. In a culture that tends to prize extroversion, it can become easily confusing to stay in touch with our natures, and like the boy, we can easily bury and suppress our valuable talents and compromise our very being.
Another hero throughout my formative years was Emily Dickinson. Her sensitive and powerful connection to the interior world always inspired me, but I didn’t quiet understand why either. While she herself was quiet and modest and her poems delicate and compact, her words were fierce, incisive, and electric. This is the woman who once said: ” If I feel physically as if the top of my head was taken off, I know that is poetry.”
After reading Susan’s Cain’s book Quiet, I recognized that Dickinson was speaking from and to that introverted core again, her words being a sort of manifesto for those of us who feel that profound inner connection, that heightened sensitivity to the wonder and beauty of the world.
One poem that particularly spoke to me growing up was ‘Tell all the Truth But Tell it Slant.’ In it, she advises that indirection and subtlety enable people to take in the intensity of the world. “Too bright for our infirm delight” the truth must be explained gently, like lightening to children, it “must dazzle gradually/or every man be blind.” This is the perfect explanation not just for people in general, but more so for us introverts–in order not be overwhelmed, we need to take it in obliquely, for there is so much to take in! Furthermore, if we allow ourselves to take in this energy the ‘right way’, we will be pleasantly rewarded with the “truth’s superb surprise!”
Before I knew the term introversion or even that it was a part of me, Dickinson made me feel less alone, proclaiming: “I’m Nobody…Are you–Nobody– too? Then there’s a pair of us!” She made it clear that it was a secret club worth joining, mischievously whispering, “Don’t tell–they’d advertise–you know!” She even took a little swipe at those who didn’t get us, those who might be so loud as not to notice, likening them to a boastful frog. I found great comfort in Dickinson’s defense of being quiet, of having a deep and sensitive interior world, in short, of being an introvert!
I am grateful to The Little Prince and Miss Dickinson for companioning me on those soul-searching days when I didn’t quite know what this introversion was all about. They have provided me with compass points that have guided me to this day. I think Dickinson said it best again: “The sailor cannot see North, but knows the needle can.”