We can learn something about embracing our opposite from looking at two men that we all see almost every day. Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and U.S. President Barack Obama, may be poles apart politically, but they share the same reputation for being deep thinkers and intellectuals. It is widely accepted that both have introverted personalities.
Introverts prefer not to talk or engage. They are private, favour small groups and need time alone.
Yet each of these two leaders can stand up before a huge crowd and belt out a good speech. Obviously, both feel the importance of their message warrants superseding their fundamental temperament to loudly and clearly project their views.
Both Harper and Obama have been criticized for being aloof and remote. And conventional wisdom says congenial, extroverted personalities have the inside track when it comes to getting ahead in the world — especially in politics.
But a recent Time Magazine article reported that that introverts have some real and often overlooked advantages. They enjoy fewer, but deeper relationships, think things through more thoroughly, are better listeners, and don’t take unnecessary risks.
There may be untold strength in being an introvert who has the ability to cross over into extroverted territory. It underscores the value of exercising your opposite when the situation calls for it.
Balancing 3 Identities
Harvard researcher, Brian Little, says that while each of us has some fixed bits of personality, we can act out of character in the service of core personal goals. He suggests that there are three very specific identities that we are constantly balancing as follows:
Biogenic Identity – These are the personality traits, such as introvert or extrovert, with which we are born.
Sociogenic Identity – This is the identity formed by the expectations our family, culture, or religion.
Ideogenic Identity – This is the identity that reflects our own personal desires and aspirations.
For example, Harper and Obama could spend their evenings in private with their families as their biological identities would prefer to do – and probably also meet the values of their sociogenicidentity to be a good father and husband. However, that wouldn’t advance their ideological visions or satisfy their ideogenic identities.
Their chosen field is politics. And that means that they must challenge themselves by spending time at social functions, pressing the flesh, cultivating contacts and giving rousing speeches. They must step out of their personal preference bubble into the realm of the extrovert because their ideogenic identity demands it.
Susan Cain, the author of a newly released book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, says that being introverted or extroverted is as profound a part of our identities as our gender.
If we accept that introverted world leaders, such as Harper or Obama, can cross over to extroverted behaviour in order to reach their goals, can accepting that each can cross from their masculine over to their feminine be far behind?
Here is my theory: Being born male or female gives us certain physiological characteristics which contribute to our biogenicidentity. Our gender label leads to LOTS of expectations heaped upon us and we soon learn whether it is socially acceptable to pick pink or blue, establishing our sociogenic identity. But to meet ourideogenic identity we must use a spectrum of skills which means breaking free of limiting gender expectations.
For women, who naturally take care of others, they must learn to stand in their own power, a characteristic most often associated with the masculine. That means taking risks, setting boundaries and promoting their individual attributes. For men, who are inherently gifted at setting themselves apart, they are well-served to become “other-oriented”. By practicing empathy and drawing out others’ opinions to facilitate discussions they bridge into the domain of the feminine.
I could also argue that both Harper and Obama are good examples of using their gender opposite in their administration leadership. When they differentiate themselves by taking credit for successful government ventures, they exercise their masculine, and when they apologize for mistakes under their watch, they use their feminine. Interestingly, their approval ratings seem go up when they aren’t overly attached to the polarized behaviour of one gender.
So there it is – both Harper and Obama have overcome their natural inclinations (and the inherent identities associated with them), to effectively reach their personal goals and aspirations. They had to step outside their comfort zone and embrace the value of their opposite but they took the leap and were successful. If it works for them it can work for you as well. It simply takes awareness, strength and conviction (and maybe the courage of a man to wear a pink shirt occasionally).