The last thing I did before the COVID-19 cancellations began in the United States was attend a music festival. A mere four days before our classes were moved to remote formats, I was at an event attended by over 30,000 people. In hindsight, it seems absurd, but remember while we were on spring break, the pandemic felt mostly like a distant issue Europe and Asia were dealing with. The activities on the festival grounds were the least socially-distanced you could be. I was constantly meeting new people, sharing food and dancing in packed crowds. As an extrovert, I had never felt more at home. The stark contrast that followed hit me hard. Extroverts may feel like an important part of their personality is being deprived, but this time during the pandemic is an important opportunity for us to thrive.
Isolated in my home, I did not spend much time wearing a mask or venturing into public at all. Now, as businesses begin to open up again, life feels less normal because now I am learning to interact with the world in a way I never did before. I like to chat with cashiers and waiters, push into crowded trains, bump into old friends and yes, I also sometimes like to chat with the person next to me on an airplane. Now, while I’m in public, I am reminding myself to not say anything or linger. Speaking projects droplets, and masks don’t prevent that completely. Any interaction with a stranger should be for necessity only, not for socialization and enjoyment as it used to be for me.
Extrovert, defined as a person who draws energy from being with other people, is a term that was created in the 1960s. When the pandemic hit, introverts, people who draw energy from being alone, professed online that social distancing and canceling plans was actually good news for them. However, everyone does need some social interaction to be well, and our video chat conversations feel more like meetings than social events. Both extroverts and introverts, and everyone in between, struggle with isolation. Those people who truly feed off of being surrounded by people, are at this point, feeling a state of emotional deprivation and deep-seated loneliness.
Upon returning to campus, there will be a temptation to let our extroverted freak flags fly. It will be hard to avoid the inevitable non-socially-distanced events, but being extroverted gives us the ability to lead by example. If you are an extrovert, your friends likely know that, and when they see you choosing not to attend an event, you'll be making a real statement. Extroversion is on a spectrum, but you might be more likely to be the person spearheading social events if you are extroverted. With that power in your hands, you can choose to make the difficult decision to not gather large groups of people.
The other power extroverted people often have is the ability to call people out when they are wrong. I was unafraid to talk to new people at a huge music festival, and I am also unafraid to ask people to pull up their masks when they aren’t properly covering their nose and mouth. There is a difference between public shaming and positive peer pressure. Some people do need an extra push to see that those around them notice when they aren’t following the guidelines that are set in place to keep the public safe. However, placing blame on one individual or getting angry with them is not going to help anyone. Sometimes all it takes is eye contact with that person and pointing to your mask to make a gentle point.
Communication with our peers this fall is going to be so important. Extroverted people can lead the way in starting those difficult conversations that we need to have with our housemates or roommates about how we are going to behave during a semester amid a pandemic. We can be the ones to pull aside a friend who is planning to host something and communicate to them that following public health guidelines still matters. This is not the fun part of being extroverted, but it's a skill we possess and can put to good use.
Being separated and prevented from attending any gathering is getting old. If I could do anything right now, I’d be back at a music festival, in a big crowd. But my desire to be surrounded by people does not outweigh the need to protect human lives.
Leah Adelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.