It will do no good to deny it--classroom hierarchy exists, and I mean not the social ranking amongst students. I speak of academic hierarchy. The students society sees as intelligent are perhaps ranked not by actual intelligence, but mainly the perception of intelligence. It hardly comes as a surprise that the students professors perceive as "most likely to succeed" in his classroom are those who sit in front, who raise their hands the second a question is posed, or who jump at any opportunity to prove themselves.
Honestly? I do none of those things. In fact, I sit near the back of the classroom, prefer to scribble my answer into my notebook when a question is asked, and try to evade much notice in general.
According to common belief, I am therefore a disinterested and disastrously average student. I am a ghost, content to flit in and out of classes. I am not the brightest, or I would participate more actively. This is the tragic assessment of the general population when met with such a person.
Upon further investigation, however, isn't this assessment rather unfair?
Are we not able to form our own opinions, and know for ourselves the correct answers to questions? Are we incapable of thoughtfulness? Are we worth any less because we'd rather listen quietly at the back than project our thoughts in front of the entire class?
Yet we quiet people are told to speak up. After all, how will we succeed in life? In my case, I am training to become a doctor meant to interact with patients. I should show eagerness! I should distinguish myself! I should be an effective communicator! I should not dread public speaking! I should speak to strangers without fear so easily lodging itself in my chest! I ought to be ashamed for not doing these things, should I not?
Quite to the contrary, I personally wonder why I shouldn't be a much better physician because of my introversion.
Allow me to speak freely about my own circumstance and feelings about this topic. Mind you--I, perhaps, am far from representative of any group of persons. I simply think it is unjust for anyone to judge my ability to become an effective physician on whether or not I am an eager beaver in class (or in any situation, for that matter!). And perhaps this short piece will help others understand those like me.
Society so often forgets that mankind is composed of different personalities and perspectives. Each kind of personality has something unique to contribute to one's chosen field, and yet it is so easy to have ideal characteristics in mind--a doctor should be personable, intelligent, professional, confident. These are desirable characteristics, yet it's so easy to have a stereotypical image of how these traits ought to express themselves.
Must one be talkative and loud to be considered personable? Must one be the first to answer in class to be considered intelligent? Must one be stoic to be considered professional? Must one have swagger to be considered confident?
Can't one be quiet and yet develop rapport? Can't one think hard on his answer before giving it? Can't one be candid and yet be professional?
I think the interesting thing about introverts is how keen we are in our observations. We learn others' opinions because they readily give it to anyone who lends an ear. We are able to filter our thoughts before they flow from our tongues. We are able to notice subtle changes of demeanour resulting from words said. We are able to say the right things at the right times because we notice certain things overlooked by others. These we are able to do precisely because we are less eager to be the most perceived person in the room. Our ability to find security in the background lends to our perception of the world. And is this not a good thing? Shouldn't it attune us more to the feelings of our patients?
The entire reason I chose this profession was because it was so keen on humanity. With any other field, though perhaps one could argue that the ultimate goal was to touch a human being's life, none does so as intimately nor as immediately as medicine. There's a certain degree of compassion a physician must absolutely have to practise medicine. The fictional Dr House is, arguably the exception but perhaps even he represents the bare minimum: how does a doctor treat a patient's disease if he doesn't wish to save that person's life? Taking it one step further: aren't introverts capable of a grassroots sort of compassion? Furthermore, perhaps there is something special in a physician who is less eager to speak--perhaps we have understood the fear that comes with having to say something out loud.
I suppose the question boils down to stereotypes: can't we deal away with such things? Shall we admit that a successful doctor may just be the medical student who prefers to shun any sort of limelight and simply go about his duties the best he knows how--unconventionally? quietly?