Read: March 2020
Author: Susan Cain
Length: 368 (paperback)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
“At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts – Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak – that we owe many contributions to society.
“In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts – from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.”
I hope this finds everyone well or recuperating well from the current Pandemic. The self-quarantining has allowed me to read or get through the Audible in a timely fashion, which means I probably has lost a bit of what I listened to over the past several weeks. I came to this selection as a result of a suggestion made by a professor of mine as I work on my Masters of Science in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. It sounded interesting and here we are.
For those who are interested in nonfiction, possibly self-help genre without it being so “you have to do this or that”, this is likely a book for you. The author recounts several of her own experiences as she journeys to understand her introversion and others. She’s talented at drawing you in with her vivid stories of anxiety and overcoming those anxiety in various situations. I’m not sure if I were reading it versus listening to the narrator, made it more powerful to me or not. I particularly liked the story of her being a very quiet and sincere attorney in a negotiation that merited her being offered a job by the opposing counsel.
Her explanation of being an introvert and how often it makes those of us who feel introverted feel drained and encumbered by dealing with a society in which values someone who is vivacious or outgoing. The explanation of the physical and emotional toll this takes on introverts was thoughtful and insightful. In addition, Cain doesn’t produce a diatribe about how extroversion hurts introversion, she explained both sides in an even-keeled manner that doesn’t make you feel like she was condemning anyone.
The research she placed into background information of some of her subjects including Andrew Carnegie, was extensive and tied in well with the theme of the book. I will say, like most people, I get annoyed or my eyes start to cross when we get into the true statistics of the science behind her assertions. So, if anyone’s eyes glaze over at that point, I understand and apologize, as this was a scientific selection as well.
I will not belabor the topic. If you have an interest in a nonfiction work that may give you a little understanding to how you process or interact with individuals as an introvert or extrovert, this may be the book for you. There is enough entertainment here to keep you wanting to read or listen further. However, gives you enough science that might make your eyes cross if you are not so statistically minded.
Narration Review†: Ms. Mazur did a good job. She has a soothing voice that should go along with someone who is expressing the concerns of an introvert. Overall, I was very pleased with her rendition.
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): n/a.
Lady Esbe listened to the Audible edition of this selection, narrated by Kathe Mazur.
This book resonated with me – not only because I am an introvert, but also because of a little thing called COVID-19, which has recently left many people across the world shuttered away in their homes under quarantine or self-isolation. Esbe couldn’t have picked this selection at a better time, really.
Susan Cain’s work itself is thoroughly researched, though it may at times seem a little biased, considering Cain is herself an introvert. Extroverts have their place in the world – and she does a good job of stating this at the very beginning – but so much of our society, of our global structure, is now dependent upon the qualities of extroversion with little or no regard for the other side of the coin, much to the detriment of our growth and society as a whole. I myself am one of the adapted introverts to which she refers: an introvert who, for all intents and purposes, sucks it up, fakes it as much as they can, and then rushes off to find somewhere to recharge. I can also confirm what Cain states throughout this selection: forcing introverts to conform to extrovert ideals from childhood throughout their lives is not only mind-numbing for the introvert themselves, but potentially dangerous to their psyche and mental well-being, especially if they have no opportunity afterwards to “recharge” alone – not to mention that the benefits of an introvert just being an introvert are then never truly tapped into by most schools, business, and groups.
… many of us work for organizations that insist we work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly.
As an introvert, reading Quiet was a bit like a checklist from beginning to end. I found myself nodding and crying out, “YES! See, that’s what I’m talking about!” I’ve always known I was an introvert, from reports of “shyness” as a child to my preference for “people-watching” over “people-engaging” as an adult – but Cain’s work really put some things into a new and clearer perspective, things with which I have struggled throughout my life with increasing dismay.
“You’re so good with people!” is a common statement I’ve heard throughout my life. “You’re so funny!” “You’re so confident!” “You always know exactly what to say to make someone feel better!” “You’re a great speaker!” “You’re such an entertainer!” The people who’ve said this to me aren’t wrong: I can, seemingly quite comfortably and easily, give a presentation in front of a room packed full of people. I can go to a restaurant or pub with a group of friends, acquaintances, and co-workers and engage with everyone and keep them laughing for the duration. I can talk my loved ones down from ledges with a sense of calm, humor, or comfort, whichever applies. I can march headfirst and horns-out directly into an uncomfortable conversation or confrontation.
… you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell” – that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.
But these days, Cain points out, what you see is not necessarily what you get. My closest friends will tell you that, yes, I can stand with all eyes on me and talk at length about whatever is required of me, but sweat is literally running down my spine the entire time – not out of true terror of those in the room, but out of effort: the more people in the room and the longer I have to be with them, the closer the walls become and the thicker the air feels. I know I have a quick wit, and I use it to my own advantage – it is a defense mechanism more than anything else, and I do it mostly for my own sake: a lull in a group of people inevitably leads to chit-chat, to small-talk, and I’d rather smash the wine glass in front of me and use the broken stem to gouge out my own eyes than be stuck at a table listening to people prattle on just to fill the silence. I’m good at calming and comforting people not because I’m a people-person with a great understanding and fondness for humans in general… but because I have “lived in my own head for so long,” as I’d say, that I am extremely empathic – I can comfort and calm others because I can imagine quite well how I might feel in their situation. And I have never in my life had a real confrontation over anything for myself, save perhaps whose turn it is to wash the dishes – my own issues I prefer to sit down and talk out… But mess with someone I care about or take a stance opposite my own on a topic about which I feel very strongly, and I go from sidelines to “here, hold my wine,” in point-one-five seconds flat.
But it is what happens after all of that, Cain points out, that is the really important gauge as to whether a person is an introvert, extrovert, or mix of the two. After all of those engagements, an extrovert typically will feel energized, in the case of a friendly social gathering, or content with having done a good deed, in the case of comforting a loved one. An introvert, on the other hand, will feel… wiped. Totally wiped. A large social gathering of acquaintances leaves me totally drained after an hour or two. In classic introvert style I have precisely three people I actually call my friends, one of whom I married and the other two of whom are in this book club: the Manimal, who is also an introvert, will tell you that at least once a day I slink off for an hour or so to crochet, knit, draw, paint, read, or create some new herbal concoction; BillMo, who falls more under the ambivert category, probably couldn’t tell you how many times she’s been talking to me and watched me just faaaaade awaaaay behind my own eyes, only returning when she waves a hand in front of my face and says, “Hey, come back!”; and introverted Esbe and I often go days or weeks without speaking to one another – hell, we once went two years without saying a single word to one another – but we always eventually circle back around, and it’s like no time has passed at all.
The word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope. Introverts can be these things, but most are perfectly friendly.
The passages outlining the dangers of being an introvert in an extrovert world opened my eyes the most. When I began reading this selection, those passages rang like bells in my mind, explaining the deep depressions into which I sometimes fall when I go days or weeks without “making something” – i.e., being left alone to follow one of my own solitary artistic or crafting pleasures – as well as the occasional anxiety that rises up out of my core suddenly, like someone let a frantic bird loose inside my rib cage, whenever I am inundated with too much of the world, specifically people whose actions I cannot predict, influence, or control – anxiety caused by that same fabulous, vivid introvert imagination, which, if left unchecked, can become the introvert’s own worst enemy, turning my mind into a whirlwind of what-if scenarios.
The mental state of a shy extrovert sitting quietly in a business meeting may be very different from that of a calm introvert – the shy person is afraid to speak up, while the introvert is simply overstimulated – but to the outside world, the two appear to be the same.
The current COVID-19 crisis unfolded in the West as I read Quiet, and it put into stark reality the dangers of a society which leans too heavily on one personality type over another. I live in extroverted America, the land of the loud and the home of the feelers, where handshakes and hugs are the norm, personal space is taboo, and the word “loner” is used with purely negative connotations. Many of us are in quarantine or self-isolating to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus, and you cannot turn on the news or open Instagram or Twitter these days without hearing about someone’s meltdown over their “isolation and loneliness.” “I’m so alone,” sobbed one acquaintance whose feed I simply had to stop following, “it’s been three days, I don’t know what to do with my kid, my boyfriend and I are so bored, this is just terrible, I feel so cut-off, I feel so isolated…”
If anyone were to ever write a book about my life, it would be called Socially Distant: the Elle Tea Story. With Zoom, Skype, Instagram, Facebook, FaceTime, mobile phones, Xbox Live, PSN, Steam, blogs, email, television, and the ability to still go outdoors provided one maintains a safe distance of at least six feet between themselves and the next person over, extroverted Americans somehow still feel like they are cut-off from the world. There are major meltdowns going on – I watched it happen to my acquaintance, who now must work from home rather than an office, has full-time duty with her child, has a live-in boyfriend, and now can’t go out on Friday and Saturday nights. I watched her sob tearfully into the camera for her IG Story as she explained how difficult her days and nights have been – all three of them, at the time – and how depressed she felt without “anyone else.”
But introverted Americans? Now, this is not our dream, this is obviously not the ideal – no one wants to be forced to worry about whether the people around them are carrying some disease that might kill them or that they might catch and carry to their loved ones… But as for the quarantine, the self-isolation, the six-feet-of-separation? I can promise you there were no introverts on the beaches once this thing broke. We weren’t at the bars, we weren’t throwing coronaparties or starting CoronaChallenges. We were gathering up our books, dragging out our board games, organizing our Watch-Lists on Amazon and Netflix, pulling out the recipes and patterns and projects we’d planned to do but never had time for with work and family and social responsibilities. At last, at least for a little while, we don’t have to pretend to be something we aren’t. At last, for the first time in history, everyone in the world can save everyone else in the world by simply slipping for a while into the introvert ideal.
In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth. But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining.
The only reason I knocked one cup o’ delicious tea off of Quiet was that at times it felt bogged down with unnecessary details, details that add nothing significant to the overall subject, slow down the pace, and do the book a disservice in the long run. I love analysis, I love philosophy and research… but I do not like to read page after page and chapter after chapter about fMRI studies and neurological patterns, especially given how new so much of that data still is – the brain and how it works is still a huge mystery for the most part, and regurgitating such findings can put a definite timestamp on a book such as this, which would otherwise be timeless and useful for all personality types in all generations.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, I urge you to read Susan Cain’s Quiet. If you’re an introvert, it will definitely speak to you and give you perspectives you may not have considered. If you’re an extrovert, it may help you understand how to better deal and communicate with friends or loved ones who aren’t conforming to society’s extrovert ideal – they may be introverts, and that is OK and not something you can simply reprogram, plus they may bring something new and different to your family or social circle. And if you’ve always wondered why you felt like you have bits of both worlds, well, you actually just might, and Quiet can help you identify the parts of your personality which are more introverted so you can address and cope with those while still being true to the extroverted parts of your personality.
All in all, a great pick at a great time, Esbe!
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): n/a.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
I did not hate this book but I also don’t want to read it again. It felt very much like something I had to read from college in which case it does not appeal to me as something I would pick up to enjoy. It makes me sleepy.
How did we go from Character to Personality without realizing that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way?
I did like that there is no judgement for being introverted. This book seemed to celebrate it to some extent. There were also good ideas in how to live in an extroverted world and still be yourself. Now if I could just get management, certain family members, and acquaintances to read this book then that would be great. Maybe they could get us a nice quiet safe place at work for those of us who don’t like to just be thrown out in the middle of everyone and swim little fishies swim! They could also learn to have fewer meetings and just send e-mails with the pertinent information. They would also learn that what is good for one is not necessarily good for all. But then again this means that they would have to actually read something and think about others. Soooooooo this probably won’t happen. I would also like for them to institute Jason Fried’s No Talk Thursdays. Now there are some (more like one) person I would want to talk to but if we could institute management is not allowed to talk to US every Thursday that would be FANTASTIC!
I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers but they don’t have good ideas.
This book was only 264 pages (or at least that’s what my kindle said), but it would take me a really long time just to tick up a percentage. I ended up having to change my reading progress to look at page numbers so that I could have a goal. That being said there is very helpful information that is in here that I might be able to put in to use.
We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.
I liked how there was a chapter talking about how to help introverted children just live and be themselves. Also, to help them live in a society that prides itself on being extroverted without losing what makes that child the person they are and helps them just be a better them.
Open-plan workers are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and elevated stress levels and to get the flu; they argue more with their colleagues; they worry about coworkers eavesdropping on their phone calls and spying on their computer screens. They have fewer personal and confidential conversations with colleagues.
I also liked the joke about Finland. As a matter of fact based on the joke and the comment that they are an introverted country maybe I want to live there. Joke, “How can you tell if a Finn likes you? He’s staring at your shoes instead of his own.”
Indeed, excessive stimulation seems to impede learning: a recent study found that people learn better after a quiet stroll through the woods than after a noisy walk down a city street.
I do think this would be a good read for people looking to be mangers, teachers, or parents. In the world today we will all be around introverts and extroverts. This book can help others understand people a little bit better.
We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.
I also agree strongly with not liking Groupthink. Give me a piece of paper or an e-mail and let me express my ideas that way. Groupthink goes in to the bin! Free thinking for everyone!
Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.
It wasn’t bad but not my cup of tea either. If I had to read this for school it would not have made me want to gouge out my eyes with my pencil.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): n/a.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
† Narration “cup” scores do not count towards the overall average score of the selection itself.