Quiet: The Power of Introverts – Susan Cain [ Review ]

March 22, 2012 — 7 Comments


Page 2- Quiet: The Power of Introverts – Susan Cain

She explains the concept of the extrovert ideal, or the assumption we make as a society that being outgoing is powerful, that being loud is desirable, and that being sociable is happiness.  She roots that ideal at the turn of the 20th century, when men like Dale Carnegie were learning how to be engaging public speakers in order to better their situation in life; the culture began to equate outgoing and engaging with promotion and success.  She traces the extrovert ideal through advertising that based its sales campaigns on the appeal of being noticed, getting a date, or getting ahead in business.  Even today, she explains, if someone cannot effectively make a presentation, or command a room, or be an assertive member of a group, he or she is considered as lacking.

Cain gives examples of how classrooms and workplaces today are set up to encourage more social interaction among students and coworkers, eliminating private space in order to encourage  public exchange.  The trend is what she terms “the New Groupthink,” or the desire for group collaboration over the individual genius.  Which, for some people, just isn’t conducive to creation or growth, as in the case of Maya who drowns in the midst of her more outspoken classmates during elementary school group work time, or as in the case of Don who struggles to find his place among an outgoing, bold, extrovert class at Harvard Business School.

Cain draws examples from many parts of culture, even from evangelical Christianity.  Adam S. McHugh, whose 2009 book is entitled Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture (LGT our review), gives his story about the pressures to be an outgoing and engaging Christian.  “At first McHugh felt good about carving out more time for himself.  But then he got active in evangelicalism and began to feel guilty about all that solitude.  He even believed that God disapproved of his choices and, by extension, of him. … Contemporary evangelicalism says that every person you fail to meet and proselytize is another soul you might have saved.”  But in the midst of discouragement McHugh learned he wasn’t alone, and tweaked his pastoral focus to small groups and one-on-one encounters.  Still, McHugh questions the culture, as it seems that “If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love,” as Cain articulates.  It seems that there is still a balance to be found.

One of the dangers of reading a book like this about introversion is that we can begin to justify anti-social behavior.  Understanding how we are wired is to our advantage in that we’re able to better manage ourselves, knowing how our energy is depleted or charged, and knowing how much time to give to social occasions and how much time to spend independent of them.  But completely cutting out experiences that make us uncomfortable can cause us to stop growing as individuals.  As Tim Challies, Christian blogger and pastor, noted on his 14 February 2012 Connected Kingdom podcast, “My challenge…is to keep introversion from enabling or excusing sin.  Introversion can quickly and easily become a way to validate sin.  I can excuse selfishness, self-centeredness, escapism, lack of hospitality, rudeness. I can stay away from people and excuse it as being just the way I am, as being who I am.  I can be shy and quiet when the Lord calls me to be strong and bold.”  While Susan Cain doesn’t advocate a specific way of handling our introversion, she does give examples of situations where introverts do step past their comfort level – and manage to be very good at it – in order to achieve a goal or further a passion of theirs.  Rather than putting boundaries on introversion, she’s positively showing us ways that introverts have been able to push past their hesitancy to accomplish great things.  If anything, her book promotes the advantages of introversion and how an introverted individual can overcome the culture.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a book for the introverts, to understand who they are and how they can navigate the culture around them.  But Quiet is also a book for the extroverts, to understand the people around them and how to better mesh with them.  A full and engaging book, Susan Cain has treated her subject with depth and precision.