I finally got around to reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, which is just out in paperback. I didn’t really need the book to confirm that I was an introvert, but if you’re not sure, she does include a quick test. I answered true to almost everything.
Things became a little murkier as she explored related but not identical concepts such as shyness and sensitivity. Isn’t shyness the same thing as introversion? No, actually, though many individuals are both of these. But introversion, generally, means gaining energy from your own mental devices rather than from other people (who tend to tire you out), while shyness is a fear of being judged by others. I happen to be both introverted and shy, but it’s entirely possible to be a shy extrovert (which must be a special kind of hell, I would think).
Sensitivity, though, characterizes people who are “highly reactive”; who tend to get overwhelmed by stimulus. This is another characteristic that is often but not always associated with introverts, and I finally concluded that I’m not all that sensitive, really. Sure, I avoid ultra-violent movies because I find them too disturbing, but I can’t say I’m super empathetic, have great depth of feeling, or notice subtleties in my environment. (I’m a bit of a self-centered, shy, introvert, I suppose.)
But apart from helping you to understand yourself and others better, the manifesto behind the book is that North American society idealizes extroverts, making it difficult for introverts to find their way in the world, and particularly, to attain power. She argues that not only would it benefit introverted individuals if society recognized the strengths and abilities they brought to the table, but that society as a whole would as well.
At first I was somewhat resisting the idea that I had suffered prejudice all my life due to my temperament, but she did bring some valid points. The years of complaints about me “not participating in class” during school (and thank goodness I went through before “group work” became such a thing); the low cubicle walls at work so we can better “collaborate” (which results in so many being head down in earphones as they work); and the louder ones, rather than the smarter ones, tending to get their way at meetings.
And she gives advice for what you can do, from acting more extroverted than you are in certain circumstances to building in “down time” for yourself for rejuvenation to changing seating arrangements at your parties to make them more comfortable. (I’ll add one of my own: Apparently introverts are less likely to exercise, which I found confounding, because I quite enjoy it. People, you can do that alone in or around your house, to your own tunes, in your own way. You don’t even need that much space or equipment. Exercise does not have to mean sports or gyms.)
So yes, with nearly half the population in this boat, I can see why this book has had a lot of legs. Any thoughts on how to get the extroverts to read it? Hmm?