If you are an introvert, you've got to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Even if you are more of the extroverted persuasion, it could help you understand the third to half of our population who prefer a “quieter” approach to life. Susan Cain (who, in another lifetime, was a high-powered corporate lawyer and somehow knew she was a fish out of water) admits that she has been working on this book since 2005, but has really been thinking about it all of her life.
We in the USA live in one of the most extroverted countries in the world, one where the subtle strengths of an introvert are not often valued. From the time you were a child you were probably told to speak up in class, make large groups of friends, and join lots of group activities. As an adult, you may work in an open office with no private space and attend meetings in which your quiet voice is not often heard.
This book is filled with fascinating research into how the “extrovert ideal” came to dominate in Western culture. Ms. Cain traces the time in our history when personality with a capital P, rather than character, came to be the most valued trait. The extrovert ideal began to blossom as people moved into teeming urban settings where, unlike life in the farming communities from which they had come, an individual person was just one of the crowd. It became necessary to “sell yourself.” Books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie became popular. Later in the book, she notes how individuals of Asian descent, whose cultures emphasize the qualities of humility and harmony with the whole, may have trouble navigating the extreme extroversion required in our places of education and business.
Ms. Cain looks at current brain research and speculates on how evolution may have required the two aspects of behavior as balancing strengths for human survival. She discusses introverted children in the home and classroom, and partnerships in which one member is an extrovert and the other an introvert. Ms. Cain also suggests ways for introverts to manage their lives to ensure their requirements as an introvert are met.
This is an empowering book for the quiet, reflective, and introspective among us. As the author says at the end, "We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world...The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted." (p.266)