The full title of this book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It has been out for a while now (first released in 2012) and it was one of those books which seemed to hover on the edge of my awareness until I began to think that maybe I should read it. After all, I am a self-labelled introvert.
I’m not sure what I expected when I began to read this book, but it felt like a continual surprise in the way that I kept reading of habits or mannerisms that related to an introverted temperament. Examples include the ability to mix with others and enjoy it, but knowing that after a while there is an overwhelming urge to retreat into a quiet place for some alone time. I have thought of it for years as hauling up the drawbridge when I get home: I can be sociable and polite and even a little extroverted at times, but only for so long. Too much time with other people and I start to get irritable, wondering why they need to be so loud, to talk so much – is there anything that they think and don’t say? Of course, this is an exaggeration and I love being around vibrant people, but I know that for my sanity I need my quiet time too.
The book builds progressively along the classic definitions of introversion and extroversion from their popularisation by Carl Jung in his book Psychological Types, and there are many academic studies cited which provide insights into why introverts are the way they are. There are interesting interviews with academics and introverts, and the author lays bare some of her own habits and mannerisms. Cain’s approach to public speaking includes a how-to guide for introverts, and the way in which she was able to overcome the worst of her fears was illuminating. You can see her in action on her TED talk here.
It is more than introversion in the individual that is under consideration here. The cult of personality in the United States from the turn of the twentieth century is outlined. Who hasn’t heard of Dale Carnegie’s tome, How to Win Friends and Influence People? Carnegie embarked on his journey of self-improvement and discovery after struggling with public speaking for years. Over the decades, the traits of confidence and self-assertion became increasingly admired. Signs of introversion in children were deemed as unfortunate, and something that should be overcome. Cain’s own parents were very supportive of her quiet temperament, but the book is full of examples of people who feel as though they are struggling against the norm simply because their natural inclination is towards introversion.
Introversion is put under the spotlight in a global context, and there are cultural differences in the way introversion is viewed. The contributions made by introverts are acknowledged: the book commences with the story of Rosa Parks, the introvert who quietly stood up for her rights and played an integral part in the civil rights movement in the 1950s. There is emphasis on how to create environments that foster the contributions that introverts can make, and how powerful it can be when introverts and extroverts play to each other’s strengths.
For me this book was an ongoing revelation, meticulously researched and well written. I found that I had to – and wanted to – read it slowly, to absorb the ideas presented, to take the time to think slightly differently about things I had previously accepted without question. My own style of thinking and behaviour made more sense. The accompanying sense of relief that what I thought was a bit quirky in myself was relatively normal for an introverted temperament was significant and powerful. I am so glad that I finally read it, and will be dipping back into it again as needed.
What have you read recently that has changed your self-perception?
[Photo: there was a power failure whilst writing this post – thank goodness for candles!]