Review: ‘Quiet’



The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

  • Date finished: Aug. 10, 2013
  • Genre: Psychology
  • Year: 2012
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Summer 2013
  • Thoughts upon finishing:

I have been wanting to read Quiet by Susan Cain for SO LONG. No, let’s rephrase that: I’ve wanted to read something like Quiet for a long time. This was a book that, just as I expected, spoke to me. I finished the book feeling like I learned something new about myself – something that hasn’t happened with a book and I for a very long time.

In Quiet, Cain explores the world of introverts: who they are, how to tell them apart and why they are the way they are. From fascinating research on how to identify an introverted infant, to discussions on how to support your introverted child, Cain covers a lot of ground on a subject you don’t hear too much about outside of academia.

Most importantly, however, Cain looks how introverts – and their corresponding personality traits – go oftentimes unnoticed by a culture that idealizes extroversion. From the way our elementary classrooms are set up (clusters of desks to foster group work), to the reasons we’re hired for jobs (“Do you have a can-do attitude and work well with a team?”), Cain reveals how much of US culture is centered around the “extroversion ideal” and why it’s not such a good idea, and how difficult it can be for introverts to truly be themselves when faced with such expectations.

This book spoke to me on a lot of levels. I am a classic introvert: I’m quiet (I’ve been teased for my soft speaking voice), shy, very reserved in large groups of people (even if they’re my friends), a daydreamer and a little stand-offish and distant at times. It’s not that I don’t enjoy socializing, it’s that I tend to become quickly overwhelmed by some social situations and feel a very real need to escape. I break out in red spots all over my neck and chest when I have to speak in public. I’m bookish (obviously) and would prefer to stay at home and read over going to the bar any day. I’m not gregarious, I’m not bubbly, I’m not power-seeking.

While being an introvert or extrovert is only one part of our psychological make-up (and a simplified one at that, some psychologists would probably say), identifying myself as an introvert feels like it goes to the core of who I am, the decisions I make and the relationships I build with my loved ones. Reading this book, I felt like exclaiming, “Yes! That’s exactly how it feels!” Getting to know this book felt like meeting a friend who was just like me, and understood how I felt about nearly everything. It felt like vindication. It felt like, “Hey, I think it’s OK to be introverted.”

I particularly love Cain’s argument why the “extrovert ideal” isn’t actually the best, citing the 2008 economic downturn and how it was the fault of heady, risk-seeking extroverts on Wall Street who ignored their cautious colleagues. Cain discusses research that says group brainstorming is terrible for creative thinking. Also, forcing people to work without privacy in “open concept” work spaces decreases productivity, and forcing kids into group work just alienates introverts even more.

Instead, Cain calls for a world where introverts are respected and given the space they need. Learning and working is reconfigured so that all needs are taken into consideration, and “one size fits all” teaching techniques are replaced with classrooms where kids are accepted for who they are – even the quiet ones who prefer to read at recess. Because, as Cain points out, introverts are some of the most intelligent, persistent and creative people out there, and they need their quiet space in which to work and create masterpieces.

I also loved the chapter on interacting with your introvert, in which Cain discusses a couple made up of an introvert and extrovert. They complement each other well, she said, however they have the same fight over and over again. Now, Joel is also an introvert, though he has more extroverted tendencies than me (and he knows how to fake being an extrovert quite well). However, when I read about this couple fighting, I almost dropped the book: this is exactly how my husband and I fight! And here is Cain explaining why everything is happening! This is why he acts the way he does! This is why I act the way I do! I was very excited, let me tell you, and plan on sharing with Joel later.

Anyway, read this book. It didn’t take me long; the writing was smart but accessible. It’s fascinating and if you’re an introvert like me, enjoy your 10 minutes of finally feeling accepted.


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