Was Gandhi really an Introvert?

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Gandhi

Gandhi and crowd

In the book Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that cannot stop talking, Mahatma Gandhi is described as an introvert. But, was Gandhi really an introvert? Just because he was a great thinker, was deeply spiritual, and used to spend lot of time meditating and praying, should he be labeled as an introvert? Do we have sufficient data to arrive at this conclusion?

This is how Susan Cain has described introverts and extroverts on her website:

  • Introverts:  Given the choice, you’ll devote your social energy to the people you care about most, preferring a glass of wine with a close friend to a party full of strangers. You think before you speak, and relish solitude. You feel energized when focusing deeply on a subject or activity that really interests you. You have an active inner life, and are at your best when you tap into its riches.
  • Extroverts: You relish social life, and are energized by interacting with friends and strangers alike. You are assertive, go-getting, and able to seize the day. You’re great at thinking on your feet, and are relatively comfortable with conflict. You are actively engaged in the world around you, and are at your best when you tap into its energy.

Gandhi spent most of this time surrounded with people, mostly strangers. I have never heard or read anything which points to the fact that he was uncomfortable with people/strangers. As I gather from whatever I have read about him, Gandhi used to enjoy company, used to seek out meeting people. He was at ease with strangers – both common man as well as most powerful statesman of his time.

And I have not heard of anyone more assertive than Gandhi. That man was made of steel.

As per Cain introversion is a preference of less stimulation. If this is true, then in no case Gandhi can be called an introvert. He not only lived in a very exciting and dynamic environment, but actively created one for him as well his country.

I bet, if we had Gandhi today, he would have a very active twitter profile.

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4 thoughts on “Was Gandhi really an Introvert?

  1. I have some doubts about your analysis. As Susan Cain points out, introverts can learn to fake extroversion, and I am sure Gandhi found it absolutely necessary to be able to deal with people if he wanted to carry out the work he did. Also he was not a good orator in his early days, I suspect its something he picked up as he moved on. I think when we look at great men we often look at the finished product but not at their humble beginnings.

  2. Sean Coleman

    Sean Coleman
    I followed this up from Susan Cain (who has good insights) and from others because I too have strong doubts. He looks like an extravert and his wife (from the few photos I’ve seen) looks like an introvert. His biography also strongly suggests he was an extravert.

  3. Ferreroire

    Fundamentally, he was clearly an introvert, but he was able to marshal his thoughts into speech and writing when required to rally the crowd. From Gandhi’s autobiography:

    “…I used to be very shy and avoided all company. My books and my lessons were my sole companions. To be at school at the stroke of the hour and to run back home as soon as the school closed—that was my daily habit. I literally ran back, because I could not bear to talk to anybody. I was even afraid lest anyone should poke fun at me.”
    “This shyness I retained throughout my stay in England. Even when I paid a social call the presence of half a dozen or more people would strike me dumb.”
    “I must say that, beyond occasionally exposing me to laughter, my constitutional shyness has been no disadvantage whatever. In fact I can see that, on the contrary, it has been all to my advantage. My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing. I have thus been spared many a mishap and waste of time.
    Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word. We find so many people impatient to talk. There is no chairman of a meeting who is not pestered with notes for permission to speak. And whenever the permission is given the speaker generally exceeds the time-limit, asks for more time, and keeps on talking without permission. All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.”

  4. Yes he was an introvert. Introverts can train themselves to function around people when their mission depends on it. That does not change them into extroverts.
    In his Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi wrote of his childhood:

    “…I used to be very shy and avoided all company. My books and my lessons were my sole companions. To be at school at the stroke of the hour and to run back home as soon as the school closed—that was my daily habit. I literally ran back, because I could not bear to talk to anybody. I was even afraid lest anyone should poke fun at me.”

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