This is a book about people who don’t really like to talk and paradoxically, it’s got the whole world talking. It’s got the introverts talking (‘hooray, finally, understand me, validate me’) and it’s got the extroverts talking (‘look at me, look at me, look at me’). Well, that might be a smidge unfair. Extroverts aren’t all like that. Not all the time anyway. 🙂
But seriously, what Cain’s book does show us is the almighty power of the introvert. The thinker, the silent contemplator, the slow deliberator. Otherwise known as Albert Einstein, Grace Kelly, Jane Austen, Mahatma Ghandi, Bill Gates, Al Gore, JK Rowling. And many others. This book is a refuge for introverts – reading it I very nearly wept. It spelt out all the things I knew about myself but never labelled for fear of finding myself too freaky. That I recharge by being alone – that being with people, even people I love and whose company I treasure, is difficult and draining sometimes. That I think before I act. That the sound of the telephone ringing can sometimes fill me with dread. That I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m working. That I’d rather hang out with a few friends than have a huge party (although in my younger years I got around this particular trait by getting pissed in order to cope with a room full of people). That I love solitude. That I love my friends and family, and enjoy their company, but can feel easily tired if I don’t get that solitude. And that it’s not a 50/50 balance of people/solitude I need. It’s much more heavily weighted in favour of solitude.
Sound familiar? If it does, I can highly recommend Cain’s book. You too may weep with the blissful joy of recognition, of seeing yourself described on the page with understanding and compassion, backed up by serious science. Cain is unequivocal about her belief that the world needs both extroverts and introverts. She doesn’t slam extroverts, as I have jokingly done (sorry to all my lovely extroverted friends, you know I adore you all and am only being lovingly facetious when I say these things). We all serve a purpose in humanity. And although, Cain argues, we live in a deeply extroverted culture, there will always be a very important place for those of us who don’t fit in this world. As introverts many of us have developed coping strategies, ways of surviving in this extrovert world, but it doesn’t make us any less of an introvert. It just means we can be chameleons when necessary.
Although Quiet is essentially a testimonial to the psychology of personality trait studies, it is not bogged down in theory. Cain uses many personal stories and anecdotes to illustrate what the science shows her and this makes the book surprisingly readable. Her ideas on the ‘New Groupthink’ are fascinating. For so long we have assumed that creativity is spawned from thinking in groups, but Cain asserts, quite persuasively, that in fact group work destroys creativity. And if you look at our major institutions – our schools and workplaces – these places are designed around extrovert ideals and the idea that working collaboratively, thinking in groups, comes up with the best results. Intersetingly, plenty of science now disagrees with this. What does this mean for our schools and workplaces?
Who among my friends will enjoy this book: well, the introverts of course. Plus any extroverts who love an introvert and need to understand their loved one better. Plus any extroverts working with introverts who need to understand them better. I guess, anyone interested in the way personality works.
And if you’re not quite sure, check Susan Cain out on Ted Talks. An introvert talking to the world.