Stranger in a Strange Land

Although I try to embrace my introverted nature as much as possible, there are days when it’s not easy to do. Today was one of those days. Even though I know that I don’t function well in large groups, especially when the dominant language spoken (French) is one that I still struggle with, I develop a type of amnesia and put myself in these situations again and again. Surely, I think to myself, it’s not too much to navigate a room of full of perfectly nice people, who are friendly and kind, and on most days maybe it wouldn’t be a problem. But then there are days when I feel particularly “innie,” when painful social interactions have me questioning my intelligence and sanity, and I return home feeling like I just want to crawl into bed for the rest of the day.

Imagine the scenario: a party, people talking and laughing, and the introvert stands alone among them, stuck in a freeze frame while activity buzzes around her. She looks at those closest to her, how alien they seem, how at ease they are with each other, they appear to know just what to say, how to act. The introvert doesn’t understand. Who are these strange creatures, and how does one make contact with them? Someone makes a joke, and she thinks, yes, now smile, appear to be amused. But it’s no use, they are seeing through her, she’s certain, they know she’s not one of them.

That’s the kind of day it’s been. And in thinking about it, the title of the post just jumped into my head. I knew that I had heard it somewhere, so I googled it and found that’s it the title of a sci-fi novel by Robert A. Heinlein (and also a phrase found in the book of Exodus). I’ve read some Heinlein, but not this particular book, so I was surprised to discover how closely the plot mirrors my feelings about the day’s events.

Heinlein’s protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith, is a human raised on Mars by Martians. The novel chronicles his return to Earth as an adult, and the difficulties he experiences in understanding human concepts that are unknown on Mars. While there is a lot more to the book — including the introduction of the term “grok,*” one of my husband’s favorite geekisms — it’s the idea of trying to understand an alien culture that I find interesting. And the fact that though Smith may not “grok” human culture, the humans he meets likewise aren’t familiar with unique Martian beliefs that may be superior, or as valuable, as human ones.

I will try to remember this when I am again in an uncomfortable social situation. My perspective as an introvert doesn’t make me lesser than, but just different, from those around me. At least I will try to “grok” that message, if I can.

*One of the definitions of “grok” in the OED, is “to understand intuitively or by empathy;” for more info, see this Wikipedia article.

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3 Responses to “Stranger in a Strange Land”

  1. Brian said:

    And don’t forget the Iron Maiden song . . .

  2. Angela said:

    Wow! You hit the nail on the head to describe my feelings in crowded social situations. I volunteered to lead our Bible fellowship every Thursday. My highly extroverted husband encouraged me to do so. When the night came, I wanted to hide under my bed. I dreaded it. I’ve resumed my prior position of listening from afar once again and my life is so much more peaceful. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Cathy Sander said:

    I’ve realised this too: when I was at a careers expo, I found myself listening to people far more than speak. And the people were quite loud to my ears, and talking over each other at times.