I am a quiet person. I’m an introvert. I get frustrated with people who mistake quiet for shy. Some people assume that everyone who is quiet is a wannabe extrovert who’s just too afraid to be loud. I’m quiet and I’m happy. And I don’t want to be loud and the centre of attention. I will do karaoke in front of strangers when I want to and I speak my mind (when I feel it’s appropriate). I’m not crippled by my quietness. And I don’t want to be an extrovert. Thank goodness for Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Thank you Susan Cain for writing this book.
Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. One reason that people confuse the two concepts is that they sometimes overlap (though psychologists debate to what degree).
I went into Quiet knowing I would love it because it’s entirely set up to big up (so to speak) introversion and point out how introverts have enormous amounts to offer, and should be seen as just as important as extrovert voices. The ‘extrovert ideal’ world we live in is flawed because it tends to diminish and ignore the introverts. What we need is the balance that both offer.
Quiet is an interesting book that can give you insights into both the introverts and extroverts around you. It’s serious, but also quite funny. Reading (introvert) Susan Cain’s descriptions of attending a Tony Robbins seminar to help you be more outgoing are hilarious:
“But I’m not an extrovert, you say!” he told us at the start of the seminar. “So? You don’t have to be an extrovert to feel alive!” True enough. But it seems, according to Tony, that you’d better act like one if you don’t want to flub the sales call and watch your family die like pigs in hell.
and getting a tour round an fMRI machine:
Before Schwartz opens the door, he asks me to take off my gold hoop earrings and set aside the metal tape recorder I’ve been using to record our conversation. The magnetic field of the fMRI machine is 100,000 times stronger than the earth’s gravitational pull – so strong, Schwartz says, that it could rip the earrings right out of my ears if they were magnetic and send them flying across the room. I worry about the metal fasteners of my bra, but I’m too embarrassed to ask. I point instead to my shoe buckle, which I figure has the same amount of metal as the bra strap. Schwartz says it’s all right, and we enter the room.
Quiet goes on to describe how introverts and extroverts like a different level of stimulation from the outside world to feel comfortable. Introverts get easily overstimulated and so need to retreat to a less stimulating environment more frequently. I’m massively oversimplifying the description here – it covers several chapters in the book. We tend to seek out the right level of stimulation for ourselves, naturally. By having an awareness of what is happening it can help you plan your life, social interactions and navigate relationships.
Quiet gave me some insight into why I found being a high school teacher so incredibly draining. What was I even thinking? A job where you are interacting with hundreds of people everyday. Where you are in a conflict situation frequently. It’s so clear now why I had to change things after 8 years. I now work in a sixth form college. All of the teaching and subject teaching I love with none (well, hardly any) of the conflict. So much better for my mental well being! Wish I’d finished Quiet when I vaguely started reading it (in 2011, according to goodreads)!
I knew Quiet would help me feel empowered and help me see more of the strengths I have, but I never foresaw that it would help me understand my 4 year old daughter more. My daughter shows all the traits of being quite an extrovert and honestly, I find her completely exhausting. Reading Quiet has enabled me to understand her more and has helped me be more tolerant to her loudness, sociability and constant need to be accompanied and busy and noisy! I hadn’t considered this might be a feature of Quiet at all, and it’s been quite a revelation.
I recommend this book for introverts, extroverts, everyone. And if you can’t be bothered reading the whole lot, have a look at the conclusion chapter, it’s a beautiful summary of all of these ideas. Here are two of my favourite parts of the final chapter:
Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest. Work with colleagues you like and respect. Scan new acquaintances for those who might fall into the former categories or whose company you enjoy for its own sake. And don’t worry about socialising with everyone else. Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.
Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.