A Conversation with a Rabbi About Introversion

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I recently had the good fortune of meeting Rabbi Dan Fink from Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, Idaho.  We met in the context of my introduction as a coach of introverted leaders and began to discuss introversion as it relates to faith and leadership.  We recently met to continue our conversation at a local coffee shop in Boise.  If you were a fly on the wall, here are some of the thoughts that you would have heard us exchange.

Highlights from our conversation that are meaningful to introverts:

• According to Rabbi Fink, God appears to have introverted traits, especially from a Jewish mystic tradition. He seems to hide Himself and asks us to search for Him.

• In the U.S. on January 1st we say, “Happy New Year!” with the emphasis on “happy.”  Not so in Judaism.  They celebrate their new year in September and say, “shanah tovah,” translated “have a good year.”  There is a great difference between happiness and goodness.  The Hebrew word tov refers to things being right, whole, the way that they were intended to be.  It is this wish that Jews exchange during Rosh Hashannah.

• I had made the comment that Americans don’t know how to grieve well, that our culture is so obsessed with happiness we don’t know how to do sorrow well or to lament.  According to Rabbi Fink, Jewish culture is different (though many in his congregation are affected by the American culture).  In Jewish tradition, grieving follows a much more deliberate and lengthier process.  For example, you don’t leave your house for the first week, the community comes to you, services are held in the home, etc.  Sounded like a much healthier way to recognize loss.

• We discussed famous introverts in the Hebrew Scriptures including: Abel, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon.  We also spoke about famous extroverts in the Hebrew Scriptures: Cain, Esau, Reuben, Aaron, and Saul.

• I told Rabbi Fink that I had recently read Clash: 8 Cultural Conflict That Make Us Who We Are.  In that book, Hazel Markus and Alana Conner discuss the core cultural difference between a society based on independence and one that values interdependence.  We both saw the correlation between the independent mindset of the West and extroversion and the opposite tendency toward interdependence assumed in the culture and mindset of the Jewish faith.

Thanks to Rabbi Fink for a stimulating conversation that continues to shed new light on the nature of introversion and leadership.

Comments

  1. Wow it’s always so good to be rienedmd of this difference in my personality. I am definitely an introvert, although I’ve become much more extroverted with the help of my very vivacious husband. I do enjoy spending time with friends and all of that, but I NEED downtime to think, stare out the window, create, and just . . . be. Another way I heard someone describe this once was to evaluate where you draw your energy from. Do you feel energized after being with others, or drained? When you recharge your emotional batteries, how do you do that? For me, recharging is definitely done in an internal way, not external. My husband is the total opposite. There’s no right or wrong way you just need to know WHICH you are, so you can recharge in the way that’s appropriate for YOU I didn’t know that for a long time, and I’d wonder what was wrong with me. Now that I know my personality type, I make sure to carve out that time of solitude, so I can enjoy the social time.Sorry for the long response! This is just a really important topic for me. Thanks for helping me think through it again. It’s always nice to know there are others out there. :)

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