Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

ISBN 978-0-307-35214-9, Hardcover, 352 pp.,
Crown Publishers, 2012

Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.” —Anaïs Nin

Susan Cain’s book will come as a great relief to introverts. They will find themselves saying out loud, “Yes! Yes!” They will be filled with a sense of vindication: finally someone understands them, and, more importantly, someone values them. They will find an answer to a question they might have asked themselves:

“Is there something wrong with me?

Every introvert should read Quiet to gain greater understanding of themselves and what they have to offer to society. Every extrovert should read Quiet to gain greater understanding of the powerfully quiet people in their lives, and how a lack of understanding can cause deep pain.

“. . . introverts relate to other people. Of course they do. They just do it in their own way.”

There is no clear definition of introversion or extroversion, and most people fall at different points on the spectrum of one extreme to the other, but recent science points to “fixed traits” and “free traits” and “temperament” versus “personality.” We all have free will and can adapt our outward behaviours, but we all have inborn, biological behaviours and emotions. Our culture and life experiences affect us, but we have an underlying temperament that forms the foundation for our approach to life.

Science also says that introverts and extroverts operate differently.

Introverts are more sensitive to stimuli and new situations. They begin tasks slowly but then work deliberately with fixed concentration. They persevere with difficult tasks through to completion. Extroverts soak up new stimuli, and dive into tasks enthusiastically. They are easily distracted and tend to give up on difficult tasks more quickly than their introvert counterparts.

It’s not that I’m so smart,” said Einstein, who was a consummate introvert. “It’s that I stay with a problem longer.”

As Cain points out, in our North American culture, quiet perseverance isn’t sexy. People who don’t talk are seen as failing in some way. We like the engaging enthusiasm of the extroverts, so it is easy for introverts to feel underappreciated or even shunned. Cain hopes that her book will encourage introverts to honour their true nature. After all, introverts brought us such fun and important things as Charlie Brown, the theory of relativity, Google, Harry Potter and E.T. (That’s right, Spielberg is an introvert.)

In order for introverts to function well in our extrovert-loving society, they must spend a lot of time pretending.

Introverts learn from an early age that their inborn temperament doesn’t click with societal expectations. They learn how to act. They learn how to pretend to speak comfortably in public, and then they hide in the bathroom on breaks. They develop an effective sales pitch that puts them at the top of their sales team, and then they curl up by themselves and read all weekend. To get by introverts spend a lot of time pretending to be something they are not—but only so far. The “rubber band theory” proposes that people are elastic and can stretch, but only so much. Then they need a “restorative niche.”

It seems unfair to introverts that they must spend so much time being something they are not when the extroverts go about life with carefree ease. Shouldn’t they have to learn to turn it down a notch sometimes?

Cain believes this to be true.

Our society needs a better balance of both and a better understanding of both. Companies gain from hiring employees with both the outgoing enthusiasm of extroverts and the thoughtful perseverance of introverts. Our financial system benefits from having a balance of risk-takers to ensure growth and careful monitors to ensure stability. Spouses learn how to relate to each other. Parents accept children that may think and behave in ways they don’t understand.

“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.”


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on May 2, 2012, in Books I bought, Non-fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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