Quiet by Susan Cain

Susan Cain covers a lot of ground in Quiet (whose subtitle is “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”). After starting with the idea that “where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum” might be “the single most important aspect of personality,” she goes on to explore what she calls “the Extrovert Ideal” and how she thinks it came about in the US—and how that ideal means our culture often short-changes introverts, failing to see their strengths and pathologizing their differences. In addition to talking about what introversion looks like/how introverts experience the world, she talks about other related (but not identical) traits such as “sensitivity” and shyness. She talks about introvert/extrovert relationships, and about how workplaces and schools might better serve introverts (and better make use of their talents) and offers suggestions for parents of introverted kids. She touches on the fact that not all cultures have an “Extrovert Ideal” and specifically examines the ways in which some Asian Americans, in particular, may feel at odds with America’s emphasis on extroversion. It’s a lot, and I found most of it super-interesting, though I could have done without the “here’s a story about an introvert at some historical moment” parts about Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and Eleanor Roosevelt. (Not that those people are uninteresting, I was just more interested in the studies on introversion and on Cain’s conversations with living introverted people than those biographical mini-sketches.)

I am definitely an introvert, so a lot of the stuff about what introversion looks like and feels like was not a surprise to me, but it was nice to feel validated in my own feelings and experiences. Like: school and summer camp are not generally designed for introverts. Or like this statement: “Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book.” Elsewhere in the book Cain says this about stimulation, which, um, yes: “Over-arousal doesn’t produce anxiety so much as the sense that you can’t think straight—that you’ve had enough and would like to go home now.” (File under: how I feel at some point in the day whenever we go to an outlet mall.)

My husband is more of an ambivert (as he puts it, he used to think he was an introvert, and then he met me) and I had fun sharing various snippets from this book with him, like a story about an introvert/extrovert couple where the introvert wife is “always happy to see” her husband, “but sometimes she’d rather sit next to him reading than go out for dinner or make animated conversation. Simply to be in his company is enough.” Or that introverts “like to focus on one task at a time,” “tend to dislike conflict,” and “often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.” (Yes, yes, and yes, and this is why I like having a job where a whole lot of my day involves written communication.)






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *