Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Personal Strength of Tolerance - The Over-the-Top Extrovert

I was at the grocery store, minding my own business as I moved down the dairy aisle, looking for my favorite organic yogurt, when my consciousness was penetrated by a stern voice that said, "Why aren't you watching the game?"

I have recurring dreams about being in places where everyone knows what's going on but me. Everyone has all their stuff but me. No matter how hard I try, I can't find my stuff. On and on until the end of the dream.

So for a split second, I wasn't sure if I was dreaming or awake. This was not a nightmare, however. It was an old lady with a wry grin, and she was wheeling her cart towards me. Who was she? I wasn't at home watching the game, that’s for sure, and I didn’t have a clue who she was.

"The game is over," I offered in my own defense. Then I remembered. I was still wearing my navy blue sweatshirt with the word DUKE on the front in big white letters.

"My husband went to Virginia."

I had just finished watching Duke beat Virginia in the first round of the ACC tournament, so I offered, "Virginia played very well. They were only three points behind in the second half. Then Duke pulled away. Did you see the game?"

"No, I was doing volunteer work at the hospice."

I said nothing. But I was thinking, Why am I having this conversation? Who is this woman? Who are these people who walk up to total strangers and start talking to you, making cracks and picking up threads of old conversation as if you were a lifelong friend of the family? What am I supposed to say?

Once I realized that she was just a nice, friendly, outgoing lady, I kicked in with my two minutes of benign small talk so I could continue my forward progress towards the yogurt section.

I would never walk up to a total stranger like that and start up friendly conversation. It's just not who I am. I don't see the point in it, and I'm not comfortable doing  it. But I recognize that the world is a rainbow of personalities, and many people are very outgoing. She's not the first total stranger to come up to me and start talking to me as if we were old friends.

The incident reminded me about the importance of accepting people for who they are, while tolerating and making use of the differences. One of the most important things I've learned about life is that people are a lot more different on the inside than they appear to be on the outside. And the differences between us are the good news, not the bad news. It's lovely that she's the way she is, and it's wonderful that I'm the way I am. Her over-the-top extroversion is just a part of who she is, while my way is to analyze everything before I say a word. Two very different people.

Maybe I should have taken off my sweatshirt after the game.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., , Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Sean said...

I have a theory about these people. I think they're extremely lonely. They lack solid relationships in their lives, so at every opportunity, they reach out and try to make new connections. That's why they strike up conversations so quickly. It's especially common amongst older people, who have lost their friends over the years, or who've retired and have a surplus of free time on their hands.

Or maybe they're just crazy extroverted-- what do I know, I'm an introvert.

Unknown said...


The flash of insight evidenced by the last sentence of your blog today has probably rendered my comment moot. Nevertheless, I've decided to send it anyway.

Consider that from her perspective, perhaps the lady in the grocery store was not initiating a conversation with you at all. She was simply responding to your sweatshirt's first overture. Before she spoke to you, your "DUKE" sweatshirt had already broken the barrier of silence that usually exists between grocery store strangers. The little old lady in the dairy aisle had received your silent message (whether intended or not) that you were seeking a friendly neighborhood chat. She only needed to interpret what the middle-aged guy wearing the Duke sweatshirt was trying to say to her.

Among the multitude of possible interpretations, she decided to hear the following message from your sweatshirt: "Hello, I'm a Duke basketball fan, and I am enjoying the March Madness tournament going on right now. How about you? Are you a fan? What's your favorite team?"

You're right though. Extroverts, or just friendly, outgoing nice old ladies, don't need much of an opening...a polite nod...furtive eye contact..or in this case, a sweatshirt's friendly ice-breaker - whether real of imagined.


During the first year of our marriage almost 30 years ago, my wife and I frequently jogged around the 3-mile perimeter of a large public park in Houston, Texas - along with scores of other random strangers also jogging (or running or walking) at any given time.

Over a period of a few weeks, I noticed that any time my wife wore a T-shirt that had any kind of writing or logo on it, she would purposely wear the T-shirt inside out. So, I asked her one day, "Why do you always turn your jogging T-shirts inside out, if they have anything written on them?"

Since you and my wife are friends and you know her pretty well, I think you will appreciate her short, pithy, and straight-to-the-point answer, "Because I don't want to say anything."


Anonymous said...

Your post reminded me why I weear generic-looking, solid colored shirts. I'm not a dark, deep introvert, but I tend to have a hard time with people having conversations with me when I already am having a great one inside my own head!

Viva la difference!