Book Review Date: July 2nd, 2013
Written by: Susan Cain
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts — Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak — that we owe many of the great contributions to society.
In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts — from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves
This book was fascinating. There were so many things in it that I related to. And most of what I quote below had something about it that fit me or I felt I agreed with. What I loved about it was that, even though I’m pretty secure in my introverted ways, it shed some light on things about society’s perception of introversion that made me feel more validated and helped me give less weight to the Extrovert ideal that has permeated our society. Basically, I feel no shame for walking the halls of work with my headphones on and my nose buried in a book now, even more so than before. I don’t see myself as others probably see me: the anti-social girl who doesn’t look at others in the hall and sits alone a lot sketching during her lunch hour. I see me the way I feel… the way I really am: Super comfortable in my own head, drawing in a quiet bubble of peace and solitude where I can let my creativity and imagination fly, while not having to worry about the pressures of talking with random strangers, feigning excitement about small talk simply because they interpret my solitude as loneliness and therefore insist on interrupting my creative flow. Aaaaanyway… I really liked the book. It can offer some great insight into the introverted mind and how and why it is the way it is, and what it can offer society. I think everyone should read it.
Montgomery, Alabama. December 1, 1955. Early evening.
Introversion — along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. … Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling… [they] focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them… They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.
Many Introverts are also “highly sensitive,” which sounds poetic, but is actually a technical term in psychology. If you are a sensitive sort, then you’re more apt than the average person to feel pleasantly overwhelmed by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or a well-turned phrase or an act of extraordinary kindness. You may be quicker than others to feel sickened by violence and ugliness, and you likely have a very strong conscience.
In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private.
The pressure to entertain, to sell ourselves, and never to be visibly anxious keeps ratcheting up.
…how did we go from Character to Personality without realizing that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way.
I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas… It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. …we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.
The one and only personality trait that the effective [CEOs] I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: they had little or no ‘charisma’ and little use either for the term or what it signifies.
- Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the “real me” online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions. THey welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.
- Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme, McHugh is telling us. If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly. Is it any wonder that introverts like Paster McHugh start to question their own hearts?
- … where people’s respect for others is based on their verbal abilities, not their originality or insight. You have to be someone who speaks well and calls attention to yourself. It’s elitism based on something other than merit.
- … not everyone aspires to be a leader in the conventional sense of the word — that some people wish to fit harmoniously into the group, and others to be independent of it. Often the most highly creative people are in the latter category.
- …patience. I’m serious. Patience is usually so underrated.
- …solitude … and the single-minded focus on what would turn out to be a lifelong passion, is typical for highly creative people. … Teens who are too gregarious to spend time alone often fail to cultivate their talents.
- On some deep level, my fear of public speaking seems connected to other aspects of my personality that I appreciate, especially my love of all things gentle and cerebral.
- Indeed, the sensitivity of these children’s nervous systems seems to be linked not only to noticing scary things, but to noticing in general. High-reactive children pay what one psychologist calls “alert attention” to people and things. They literally use more eye movements than others to compare choices before making a decision. It’s as if they process more deeply– sometimes consciously, sometimes not — the information they take in about the world.
- High-reactive kids also tend to think and feel deeply about what they’ve noticed, and to bring an extra degree of nuance to everyday experiences.
- If he has a particular interest … he’ll often concentrate with unusual intensity. If a high-reactive toddler breaks another child’s toy by mistake, studies show, she often experiences a more intense mix of guilt and sorrow than a lower-reactive child would. …but high-reactive kids seem to see and feel things more.
- I’m prone to wild flights of self-doubt, but I also have a deep well of courage in my own convictions.
- …high-reactive children may be more likely to develop into artists and writers and scientists and thinkers because their aversion to novelty causes them to spend time inside the familiar — and intellectually fertile — environment of their own heads.
- In other words, the sensitivities and the strengths are a package deal. High-reactive kids who enjoy good parenting, child care, and a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers, studies show. Often they’re exceedingly empathic, caring, and cooperative. They work well with others. They are kind, conscientious, and easily disturbed by cruelty, injustice, and irresponsibility. They’re successful at the things that matter to them.
- …introverts function better than extroverts when sleep deprived, which is a cortically de-arousing condition (because losing sleep makes us less alert, active, and energetic).
- There are only a few people out there who can completely overcome their fears, and they all live in Tibet.
- … introverts … have trouble projecting artificial enthusiasm.
- For example, highly sensitive people tend to be keen observers who look before they leap. They arrange their lives in ways that limit surprises. They’re often sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, pain, coffee. They have difficulty when being observed (at work, say, or performing at a music recital) or judged for general worthiness (dating, job interviews). But there are new insights. The highly sensitive tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive (just as Aron’s husband had described her). They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions — sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments — both physical and emotional — unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss — another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.
- …sensitive types think in an unusually complex fashion. It may also help explain why they’re so bored by small talk.
- The other thing Aron found about sensitive people is that sometimes they’re highly empathic. It’s as if they have thinner boundaries separating them from other people’s emotions and from the tragedies and cruelties of the world. They tend to have unusually strong consciences. … they’re acutely aware of the consequences of a lapse in their own behavior. In social settings they often focus on subjects like personal problems, which others consider “too heavy”.
- Being unusually sensitive to all experience, both positive and negative, they seem to feel both the sorrow of the woman whose toy is broken and the anxiety of having done something bad. … The anxiety these highly sensitive toddlers feel upon apparently breaking the toy gives them the motivation to avoid harming someone’s plaything the next time. By age four … these same kids are less likely than their peers to cheat or break rules, even when they think they can’t be caught.“
- …blushing is an authentic sign of embarrassment. And embarrassment … is a moral emotion. It shows humility, modesty, and a desire to avoid aggression and make peace.
- When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chitchat just as much as anyone else.
- …introverts are more likely to pay attention to warning signals. They’re more successful at regulating their feelings of desire or excitement. …The introverts are much better at making a plan, staying with a plan, being very disciplined.
- Extroverts tend to experience more pleasure and excitement than introverts do — emotions that are activated … in response to the pursuit or capture of some resource that is valued.
- Introverts also seem to be better than extroverts at delaying gratification.
- Introverts, in contrast, are constitutionally programmed to downplay reward — to kill their buzz, you might say — and scan for problems. “As soon as they get excited … they’ll put the brakes on and think about peripheral issues that may be more important. Introverts seem to be specifically wired or trained so when they catch themselves getting excited and focused on a goal, their vigilance increases.
- Introverts and extroverts also direct their attention differently: if you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what’s happening around them. It’s as if extroverts are seeing “what is” while their introverted peers are asking “what if”.
- …quiet and introspection are signs of deep thought and higher truth. Words are potentially dangerous weapons that reveal things better left unsaid. They hurt other people; they can get their speaker into trouble.
- Aggressive power beats you up; soft power wins you over. … If the cause is just and you put heart into it, it’s almost a universal law: you will attract people who want to share your cause. Soft power is quiet persistence.
- I’d much rather sit and read and think about things than talk to people.
- I don’t really like being the guest at someone else’s party, because then I have to be entertaining. But I’ll host parties because it puts you at the center of things without actually being a social person.
- …people who suppress negative emotions tend to leak those emotions later in unexpected ways.
- …people who value intimacy highly don’t tend to be … the loud, outgoing, life-of-the-party extrovert. They are more likely to be someone with a select group of close friends, who prefers sincere and meaningful conversations over wild parties.“
- Your degree of extroversion seems to influence how many friends you have, in other words, but not how good a friend you are.
- …when introverts are able to experience conversations in their own way, they make deep and enjoyable connections with others.
- Introverts are just as likely as the next kid to seek others’ company, though often in smaller doses.
- Many introverted kids clam up in groups of strangers, and you will not get even a glimpse of what these kids are like once they’re relaxed and comfortable.
- …introverts often stick with their enthusiasms. This gives them a major advantage as they grow, because true self-esteem comes from competence, not the other way around. Researchers have found that intense engagement in and commitment to an activity is a proven route to happiness and well-being.
- The so-called shy kids are often hungry to brainstorm ideas, deconstruct them, and act on them, and, paradoxically, when they’re allowed to interact this way, they’re not shy at all.
- And the way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives. Unhappy people tend to see setbacks as contaminants that ruined an otherwise good thing … while generative adults see them as blessings in disguise. … Those who live the most fully realized lives … tend to find meaning in their obstacles.
- …where we stumble is where our treasure lies.
- Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity. The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.
- Solve problems, make art, think deeply.
- Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.
- Make the most of introverts’ strengths — these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine.
- Don’t mistake assertiveness or eloquence for good ideas.
- 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.