I first heard of Susan Cain when a Facebook friend of mine shared the video of her TED talk. I was enthralled by her calm passion, mostly because I felt like I could more easily relate to her than to most speakers. It wasn’t until months later that I first put her together with her book, Quiet.
The book’s main premise is to overturn our Western cultural bias toward gregarious, charismatic types by evaluating the power of the “introvert.” At the same time, Cain explores the various psychological studies on personalities and how their research applies to individuals, partners, and families, and co-workers constantly trying to communicate better.
As someone who is often described as shy and who grew up hearing from others, “You should talk more,” I was drawn to Cain’s empathetic platform. She has a way of making encouraging statements about how to energize oneself as an introvert in social settings without coming across as judgmental. Mostly because she is an introvert herself.
The chapter regarding when to act like an extrovert was particularly powerful. Something I think is hard for my extrovert friends and mentors to understand (and for me to understand, for that matter) is that it is very possible for a person who is naturally reserved to perform animation and social grace for the sake of something about which one is passionate.
I’ve recently reflected on my adolescence (as a few of my previous posts suggest). One fact has always eluded me: I was most unhappy when I felt forced to pretend feelings I didn’t have so I could “fit in.” I may not be antisocial, but I have had my doubts about how social I really am. At the same time, I’ve felt stirred and motivated when I’ve held leadership roles or when I’ve been able to share my opinions about literature, the Bible, or a new TV show.
I’m still one of those thin, nerdy girls with spectacles and a book under her arm, but I’m also excited about life and meeting people who think differently from me. I lived in a foreign country for 3 months, I spoke at my college Baccalaureate ceremony, and I’ve even performed solo guitar (not perfectly, but life’s a journey)!
Cain’s unique book is for me one of those rare cultural phenomena which has something very important to say to our culture, especially to educators. Most of those who told me to speak up and to assert myself were well-intentioned educators, some of whom decided I must also have a processing disorder. The real issue was that I was overstimulated! We should learn to value solitude for its power to lead to innovation, just as we value the “group think” ideology of corporate America.
As I head out into the world (or the very insular world of academia), I want to be one less person who caters to the people who speak nonsense but to every person who wants to challenge themselves to dig deeper.