“You’re too sensitive.”
“I was just teasing!”
“You need to come out of your shell.”
“You spend too much time in your head.”
When I was young, adults labeled me with words like “shy” and “bookish” which didn’t sound bad but I was pretty sure they weren’t compliments. I had no such confusion with the schoolyard taunts of “pussy” and “faggot.”
These were the judgments pronounced upon me. They were the phrases that defined me. They were spoken so often, I believed them. I believed that I was defective, inferior. I believed that I was somehow less. Even with all my gifts–of concentration, of perseverance, in music, as an autodidact–I still felt that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fit in, because I rarely spoke up, because I enjoyed solitary activities, because I preferred walking in the hills to traveling with the pack.
So, when a friend recommended Susan Cain’s sociological study, Quiet, I was intrigued.
It is estimated that one in every two or three people is introverted. Most likely, you are introverted yourself, or are very close to someone who is. For those who are introverted, Cain’s message is clear: There is nothing wrong with you.
I was not surprised to find the book enjoyable, but I did not expect it to be as enlightening and educational as it was. I learned not only about my own introversion, but also about how extroverts think, how they see us “quiet types.” I learned how the different types interact, how they argue, how they negotiate. I learned techniques for getting along with extroverts without “passing” as one of them, and ways to survive as an introvert in a world ruled by the Extroverted Ideal.
As a writer, I gleaned a ton of insight into characters and their relationships. I’ll admit, I’ve never understood the extroverted mind and thus most of my characters (probably all of my characters) have been quiet, thoughtful types. “Write what you know,” eh? But this book has given me knowledge about the extroverted personality and, more important from a writing standpoint, how and why they conflict with introverts.
In short, Writers: get this book.
Subtitled “The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking,” Cain begins by showing how America is an extroverted society. From our schoolrooms to our boardrooms, America extols the Extroverted Ideal. With a massive amount of research at her back, Cain discusses the extrovert/introvert dichotomy in society, in our biology, in our homes, and in the workplace.
Most fascinating was her analysis of introversion on an historical and on a global scale. Extroversion has not always been the ideal in America, and is not the ideal world-wide. In the 19th century, character was valued over personality. In the East today, the traits and characteristics of introverts are prized.
This is definitely not a book that tries to say “Introverts Rule!” Cain methodically and thoughtfully shows us how we are merely different from the extroversion that our society values, and shows how our talents, how our way of thinking has great value as well.
Every writer should read this book. Every teacher should read it. Parents who are introverted or who have an introverted child should read this book. Everyone who loves dinner parties but can’t understand why their spouse hates to go out should read this book.
Why? Because if every second or third person is an introvert, we are everywhere. We are likely pretending to be extroverts, because that’s what the world expects of us, but what we’re really doing is quietly watching, observing, trying to figure out how to survive, trying to get through our day of glad-handing and chit-chat so we can get home to sit with our loved one and watch a movie or curl up with a good book.
Or write one.