Susan Cain’s Quiet is all about how we are living in a society that values extroversion – loudness, being social, preferring speech over thought. For introverts – quiet thinkers, people who enjoy being alone and thinking before speaking – the world can seem daunting. This book explores how introverts can develop their traits, and how companies, schools, families and friends can learn to value the ‘power of introverts’.
Quiet is a revolutionary book, its power lying in stating the obvious. We live in an extroverted world, that prizes the power of loud, fast speech, group work over individual thought, where adults and children prone to solitary pursuits (reading, playing alone) are thought to have something ‘wrong’ with them.
According to Susan Cain, extroverts are drawn to the external life of people and activities, plunging into events, recharging by socialising. On the other hand, introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, the meaning they make of the events swirling around them and recharge their batteries by being alone.
It is a mistake to assume that introverts are not social – they just need less social contact to get the same amount of stimulation that extroverts get from prolonged social contact. For example, extroverts may value having a large circle of friends, whilst an introvert may choose to have a small circle of close, valued friends and family.
Susan Cain explores different definitions of what being an introvert means, through looking at psychiatry and psychology, at different schools of thought and research. She writes about how she, an introvert, has developed coping mechanisms for interacting with society, giving talks, and being social. For Cain, it became obvious that introverts often swallow their fear of public speaking when it comes to something they are passionate about; and that introversion does not equal shyness, which is a separate fear of social judgement.
Cain examines workplaces, schools and family situations to show how their set up can have a draining impact on introverts. Most workplaces are set up to be open and exposed, whilst individual closed cubicles, allowing time for solitary thought and solutions, are now largely a thing of the past. Schools value group work and group discussion above solitary imagination and ideas. Families often misunderstand a child’s need for solitude.
Cain calls for more understanding of the strengths of introverts, and how these strengths can be nurtured and harnessed. She also shows how extroverts can learn from introverts, and vice-versa – that instead of wilfully misunderstanding each other, we can learn to respect different characteristics rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all view of personality.
A timely and thoughtful discussion of what it means to be an introvert and how we can learn to accept and understand introversion.
By Lizzie Ward, deafauntie’s resident book reviewer
For more reviews and other writings by Lizzie, visit her website here.