Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review -- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

My friend, Charleen, has a book club of her very own that I call CBC, for Charleen's Book Club. Our book for January-February was Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Crown 2012, ISBN 978-0-307-35214-9). Having given myself permission long ago to be the introvert that I am, I found the book to be an affirmation of the choices I've been making, and enjoyed seeing how some of the studies cited in its pages fit with my life and the lives of other introverts I know. Our book club's evaluation of it was positive, and since then, I've run into others who have read it and agreed with the sentiment expressed at CBC: "If only I had read this when I was young!" (If we had read it when we were young, perhaps we would have valued our quiet ways earlier in our lives.)

I read the book and didn't give it much more thought -- but over the last few weeks, through conversations with my most introverted daughter, I decided that maybe I should moodle about it here. After all, if it spoke to CBC and me, it's bound to speak to other quiet people who might need the affirmation it offers!

In Quiet, Susan Cain set out to show the value of introversion in a world that gives high regard and praise to those who are extroverted. The introduction tells the story of Rosa Parks, the woman of African descent whose quiet refusal to surrender her seat on an Alabama bus gave impetus to the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Her quiet presence and strength reinforced the work of Martin Luther King and those who came after him. The way Cain told the story made me wonder if an extroverted Rosa Parks would have been as effective. Somehow, I don't think so.

Cain's book cites many studies about introversion, and I found that by the time I was halfway through it, I'd read enough scientific and psychological proof for her opinion and was wishing it would end, but I plowed through so that I wouldn't miss anything. For me, the introduction and conclusion were probably enough -- but for those who like to get into detailed studies, there's plenty of information to back up Cain's arguments for introversion.

The realization that meant the most to me in this book is that it's only been the last hundred years or so that extroversion has become the model for so much of our world's interactions. Up to that point, being quiet, thoughtful and sensitive was seen in an equally positive light with being outgoing, lively and super-thick-skinned. But ever since Dale Carnegie published his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the quieter and more thoughtful ways of introverts have been somewhat disparaged by a society that's become more interested in 'putting yourself out there,' 'going for the gusto,' and 'showing the world!'

Of course, for the one-third to one-half of the introverted population (many of us quashing our introverted selves to appear as extroverts when necessary), extroversion is not what life is all about. We like quality relationships over quantity, so we often prefer settings that allow for intimate one- or two-way chats over noisy parties where we're expected to interact on a more superficial level with many people. We know that not everyone HAS to be a public speaker all the time -- some of us are cut out to listen, ask meaningful questions, and share well-considered ideas rather than blurt out our most recent thought for feedback. Reflection in our own space works better for many of us than brainstorming around a board room table ever will, and an office with a door that can be closed helps us to be more productive than a pod of cubicles encouraging group interaction.

Susan Cain's work has a lot of implications for our world -- and for the way we organize our work spaces, our classrooms, and our home life. I wish I had read this book before I started my teaching career, because education has evolved in such a way that introverts are more likely to fall through the cracks of the school system, and there are simple ways to counter-balance educational opportunities to help the introverted child. Every teacher should read this book.

But even if you're not a teacher, this post is for all you introverts out there who wish you were more extroverted (as I have at many different times in my life) -- if you're looking for encouragement to be who you are, Quiet might be one book to check out. If you don't have time to look for the book, click here for Susan Cain's website, The Power of Introverts, or watch the Ted Talk video below. It's not a complete explanation by any means, but it gives you some idea...

Though I know shyness and introversion are NOT the same thing, I think a Henri Nouwen reflection that arrived in my inbox earlier this month also fits introverts. His words below are lovely, and encouraging. Of course, the most important thing, whether you are introverted or extroverted, shy or outgoing, is to love yourself and those introverted and extroverted people around you! I'll leave the last word to Henri:

There is something beautiful about shyness, even though in our culture shyness is not considered a virtue.  On the contrary, we are encouraged to be direct, look people straight in the eyes, tell them what is on our minds, and share our stories without a blush. 
But this unflinching soul-baring, confessional attitude quickly becomes boring.  It is like trees without shadows.  Shy people have long shadows, where they keep much of their beauty hidden from intruders' eyes.  Shy people remind us of the mystery of life that cannot be simply explained or expressed.  They invite us to reverent and respectful friendships and to a wordless being together in love.
-- Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, April 1

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