Friday, August 3, 2012

Nonfiction: Quiet by Susan Cain

The full title of this book is really Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I picked it up because, well, I am an introvert, so naturally, such a title would call to me. Also, I am a big believer in people keeping their mouth's shut, so the subtitle would call to me too...and yet, I come here every week and spout off my limited understanding of popular (and some not-so-popular) books. Ah....irony.

The Situation: The world is full of both types: introverts and extroverts (and even some "ambiverts"). We try to get along as best we can and work together. While, in a general sense, extroverts are "ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold, [and] comfortable in the spotlight," introverts are "reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, [and] thin-skinned." In other words, they are at opposite ends of the personality spectrum. But both have the capacity to be smart and successful, and both seek intimacy and enjoy socializing with different ways. Susan Cain's book is an attempt to show this to both introverts and extroverts alike, revealing that it is worth listening to introverts the few times they speak up.

The Problem: The US is not set up in such a way where the introverts are listened to, despite evidence throughout history that it is well-worth paying attention to them. It is a commonly held belief that the road to success is to constantly put yourself out there, talk the loudest, have that big personality that everyone will remember long after you've left the room. It is also often believed that introverts are doormats, not assertive enough, and some believe that they genuinely don't care as much. Cain's book proves, through various references to different psychological schools of thought, different personality case studies, personal experience, and other real life examples, that this just isn't true, but it is what many extroverts (and some introverts) would have you believe. And since they have historically talked the loudest, they have had both sides believing them. Then we end up with introverts who are exhausted, either because of the constant tension in their lives from trying to live in an extrovert's world while believing there is something wrong with them, or they are exhausted from pretending to be an extrovert by being more outgoing than what comes natural to them.

Also, we end up with extroverts who are frustrated by their introvert friends, spouses, children, co-workers, etc. And one problem that I hadn't even thought about - there is the issue of businesses, school study groups, or any situation which involves team problem-solving, only hearing and taking into action the suggestions of extroverts, simply because they talked the loudest. This has led many companies into ultimate destruction (think Enron), and there are plenty of examples out there of extremely successful self-proclaimed introverts (think Bill Gates and Stephen Spielberg).

Genre, Themes, History: I have already discussed that Cain uses various psychological theories, as well as studies and experiments, and personal stories to support her claim of the power of introverts. She even gives a little history on how the US even came to have this sort of extrovert ideal and where exactly it came from, and why we as a culture have held onto it for so long. She even devotes a chapter on the affect of the extrovert ideal on Asian-Americans, since they come from a culture and heritage that values most of the introvert traits over the extrovert ones, but the country they now live in seems to require them to act contrary to what they know.

My Verdict: I found this book extremely helpful in not only getting a better understanding of why I act the way I do, but also in seeing how extroverts view the way I act the way I do, thus allowing me more insight into why extroverts act the way they do. Also, one of the many things I absolutely adore about Cain's book, is how it stresses that there is absolutely nothing wrong with introverts. In fact, it even stresses how necessary they are to our culture, how they should be listened to often, and even how parents of an introverted child can care for and nurture their offspring. However, I did often feel like the book was kind of hard on extroverts, and I found myself being glad I wasn't one. But overall, it was nice for once to feel like someone was on my side. Someone was finally insisting that just because I don't like to speak in front of groups; and because I prefer smaller, more intimate (one-on-one if possible) conversations; hate group work; am cool with doing things on my own; and not that into doing an activity just because everyone else is, it does not in fact make me stubborn, or anti-social, or selfish, or, and this is possibly the worst one, uncaring. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Sure, I already knew this anyway...I have parents who were cool with having an introverted child (most of the time)...but it is nice to have someone else validate it once in awhile.

Favorite Moment: My favorite section is probably the one titled "When Collaboration Kills Creativity." Cain just comes right out and says that for the most part, group think and group projects just don't work. And they definitely don't work for your everyday introvert. In fact, I know many extroverts who can't stand group projects. What happens is that the one who talks the loudest is deemed the leader and is the one whose ideas get put into place, whether it is any good or not. And those who may be uncomfortable voicing their opinions or concerns in a group of more than four people are overlooked and ignored, even if their suggestion is the best. Of course everyone should learn to speak up for themselves and gain the confidence to put their own ideas out there, but in general, our culture simply doesn't operate in such a way that allows for the "quiet" or "shy" ones to be the ones that are listened to.

Recommended Reading: I think I will suggest Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Why? Because Carroll was an introvert. His timeless children's story is one of many examples of what an introvert can accomplish when allowed to focus, as they apparently love to do, on their favorite artistic hobby or project.

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