I haven’t written a ‘what I’m reading’ post in quite some time, but now I have a book that I can’t recommend enough. Written by Susan Cain, published just a few years ago, the book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
This book actually belongs to daughter Alison. She is granted limited work hours each week, and so her free time is spent reading through the multitude of books on her shelves. Alison came to me to announce that Quiet was perhaps the best book she had ever read. Why? Alison was able to put a definitive label to her sometimes difficult to understand behavior after reading this book. She left it on my own ‘to read’ book shelf with heavy implications that I read it as well. I am glad that I did.
“At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.”
Cain uses both psychological and sociological research to aid in her real life examples of traits that define introversion. She includes her own version of a simple quiz that helps to highlight the attributes of an introvert, but if you’ve ever taken a psychology class, or been a part of a leadership or team building conference you may already know if you have a big Introvert label or if you are among those living fully as an Extrovert based on the Myers-Briggs Test.
Cain has not simply written another book telling us to test ourselves and then subscribe to a socially molded formula defining either the reserved or out-going personality. She talks at length about what an introvert is, or can be, as well as giving insight into the fact that introversion, or extraversion for that matter, are not necessarily black and white. Cain also discusses that introversion is marked by the ways in which a person reacts to various stimuli. The reaction, either as a low-reactive, or high-reactive, then elicits very different responses based upon that label of I or E, or perhaps even association as an ambivert.
Cain talks of the social expectations associated with personality and success. It wasn’t surprising at all to me that we live in a society that has established, and holds supreme, an “extrovert ideal.” Politics and capitalism are just two areas that Cain associates with the concept of the high energy, gregarious, charismatic extrovert. Her focus though, lies with those of us who don’t, can’t or simply won’t buy into the ideal: the introvert who takes a different approach, and who is often seen as sullen, odd, or somehow less than, dare I say marginalized, by the eyes of society.
Among many interesting aspects of this book, I took away two important points from Quiet.
No one had to tell me that daughter Alison is an introvert. I would claim that son Jeff is one as well. Daughter Cara is a bit harder to judge, so she may fall into the ambivert line. However, since Alison has always been my rather enigmatic child, the child and now adult who is decidedly ‘her own person’ in just about every regard, and the only one of the three who still lives at home and is available to my eyes on a daily basis, Cain’s book has helped me to understand a bit more about what makes Alison unique. I think as a parent, especially of young children, we want to help them learn to navigate comfortably in the world. I wish that I had read this book sooner. I would have made different choices and enjoyed greater clarity regarding each of my kids as they grew into adulthood.
The second point, one that holds huge social implications, centers on how our education system is constructed, and how children are taught. Cain devotes large sections of Quiet to the concepts surrounding success, specifically how society accepts the definition of success for those who fit the extrovert ideal. I had many raised eyebrow moments and head bobbing nods of agreement as she detailed just how our system of education is designed specifically to turn students into the ideal extrovert ready to lead. Very few programs really take into account the discomfort felt by many students who simply learn differently, who simply aren’t okay with large group stimuli, or with collaboration, or with that all important teamwork. All those techniques that foster interaction, and speaking out, all the classroom configurations that encourage group learning…they may be fine for the extrovert while the introverted child is clamoring for peace, a single desk, individual projects, and time to simply be and do as an individual. Educators are likely bound by specific mechanisms in their teaching. Innovation isn’t necessarily the norm, but every educator should read this book.
I instantly thought back to the time that I was tutoring in our public school system. I wrote numerous blog posts about my frustrations in trying to get my students (yes they worked in groups) to interact, to participate, to collaborate. The fundamental system that we were working under used an acronym that highlighted educational advancement through individual determination. However, at least one half of the program was focused on group work and team systems of learning. Tutors were even asked to evaluate and critique their students on this collaborative work. It has been over one year since I left that job. I can see each and every face that I now would assign to an introverted student. I can see the handful who fell into the extrovert ideal. All of these students were intelligent, and highly capable, but some (many) were still failing because they were being asked to learn in a way that wasn’t right for them. I couldn’t have changed the system, but Cain’s information on introversion would have allowed me greater empathy and insight into these students as individual learners who were also coping with numerous issues beyond the educational level.
I don’t really care for the concept of the self-help book, but in a very broad sense that is what Cain has written with Quiet. She brings a level of understanding to the very real fact that, through both nature and nurture, that some individuals are just fundamentally more ‘out-there,’ some sit on the fence and jump from side to side, and many more than we really know simply want, and need, to pursue life in a quieter manner.