Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking"

Lest you think I may have come completely unhinged with inner struggle---here I am, (hello!), back in the saddle, fit as a fiddle. I did, in fact, retrieve a copy of Quiet again and finished it. (Full circle!) And as I suspected it did help me come to conclusions. So here I am to review the book itself...with a bit more commentary on the side.

Susan Cain begins with the story of Rosa Parks. With one small "no", she's a case-in-point example that the strength of quiet, thoughtful people can truly improve the world.

"Introvert" is not a synonym for "hermit", says Cain. (Though no denying hermits surely are extreme introverts.) Introverts are those who consider themselves thinkers, dreamers, idealists, sensitive, artistic, insightful--in a word, quiet. She submits society should recognize the value of quiet thinkers. She warns us that we should not mistake eloquence for good ideas, that we should reconsider whether the ability to schmooze should be regarded as the greatest of strengths.

Where did this ideal of the fast-talking, assertive alpha leader begin? She cites a major instigator as Dale Carnegie, writer of How to Win Friends and Influence People. Before salesmen, the everyday American valued character. But changes in 20th century America started people thinking about personality.  "How to act confident!" "How to carry yourself!" "How to be a strong public speaker!"

It's worked it's way into the workplace: collaboration (collaboration, collaboration!), open work space, team building retreats, team everything. It's also alive and well in the classroom: group projects, team brainstorming, public speaking core standards starting in kindergarten. It's even filtered down to family life: "What program can I put my kid in so they can learn to socialize?"

Learning to work with others is certainly important. But should we assume every child should be seeking to run for future class president? Should we be disappointed when they do not? Are the only creative or thoughtful employees the ones that can do a major song and dance about their ideas?

Additionally, when considering extroversion as a strength in the workplace (or society), consider this:
"[Extroverts are] good at betting their way, but that doesn't mean they're going the right way. If we assume extroverts and introverts have roughly the same number of good and bad ideas, then we should worry that the loud and more forceful people always carry the day. This would mean an awful lot of bad ideas prevail, while good ones get squashed."

At the point my audiobook auto-returned I couldn't help but think that Cain is making introverts sound pretty brilliant. They're thoughtful, steady, intelligent, they appropriately mete out what they say and do. They're insightful, persistent, sensitive, calm, creative, yet unassuming and modest. Wow. Maybe I'm not an introvert after all. I seem to identify a lot of my nervous traits with introvertedness, but, heck, maybe that's not introversion at all! I'm certainly no Rosa Parks, Gandhi or Lincoln. Could I be more gregarious and extroverted than I feel? An insecure extrovert?

Yet as I continued to read I realized, no, of course her point is introverts have strengths and weaknesses. American society today focuses primarily on the weaknesses of introversion, not considering the strengths at all. Conversely, we as a whole, seek to sow the strengths of extroversion while ignoring its weaknesses. Because of all this, she's focusing on the ignored truths: primarily the strengths of introverts.

I, personally, connected with chapter 9, "When should you act more extroverted than you really are?" This answered a lot of my quandary about "Am I not being my 'true self' doing x, y or z?" (Short answer to chapter's question: You should act more extroverted than you really are if something you love or value necessitates it. But you should make quiet time for yourself as well.) I also appreciated the insightful chapter on how to teach and parent introverted children; how to help refine their strengths.

Additionally, Cain's not trying to peg everyone as a textbook introvert, extrovert or anything else. "We're each a complex combination of character traits, interests and backgrounds." "Take what applies to you and use the rest to help your relationships with others" she says. Very good, very good.
A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, anymore than would a race in which everyone was Vincent Van Gogh. I prefer to think the planet needs athletes, philosophers...painters, scientists... It needs those who can devote their lives to studying how many droplets of water are secreted from the salivary glands of dogs under which circumstances. And it needs those that can capture the passing of cherry blossoms in a fourteen syllable poem... --Alan Sean 
Whether introvert, extrovert or someone in between, every reader should take a quiet moment to consider the vast information and thoughtful questions posed to us in this extraordinary book.

1 comment:

  1. I am totally a fast-talking extrovert who uses enthusiasm/forcefulness to forward my ideology even when my plan isn't the best one on the table... BUT I just requested this book at the library and I'm excited to read it (and I know the introvert in our marriage would like to read it, too!).

    On your original post (which I just read...I need to figure out how to get your blog to email me updates!) someone mentioned the Myers-Briggs method for ascertaining introversion/extroversion (they say it's all about whether you recharge by being with other people or by being alone). Most people are somewhere in between those two things...I know that I love being with people, but I also like being alone, especially after lots of social interaction (p.s. Jonathan and I both replay conversations to ourselves after events just like you do :-)

    As an aside, in this digital age, we almost never have to be ALL alone in our own minds. I think that means that everyone, "introvert" or "extrovert", is losing power/will to think deeply.


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