Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking
Susan Cain

Garrison Keillor once did a humor piece called “Shy Rights: Why Not Pretty Soon?” If you think that’s funny, you’ll probably like this book. If you just happen to know someone who’s introverted and want to know how they work, you’ll probably like this, too. (By the way, shy isn’t necessarily the same thing as introverted. That’s covered here.)

Do you prefer one-on-one talking to group activities? Do you prefer solitude over parties? Do you tend to avoid risk? Dislike conflict? Work better on your own? Feel wiped out after being around people all day? If so, you may be introverted. There’s a test in the book which can help you to be reasonably sure. Introverts make up at least 1/3 of all Americans, and may constitute much more. And yet American culture is an extroverted one, with extroversion often held up as an ideal. How can introverts, who sometimes feel left out, learn to thrive? How can extroverts learn to embrace them? Author Susan Cain calmly and persuasively guides us through these and other topics, and suggests that a revolution (albeit a quiet one) may be in order. Any healthy society, she maintains, will have a balance between extroverts and introverts. What she has to say is provocative, revelatory and will come as a relief to the introverts (and, to a lesser degree, extroverts) among us. She’s summarized a very large amount of research, research that’s been done because the existence of introversion/extroversion is about the only thing personality psychologists agree on. Even animal societies, including fish and insects, show introvert and extrovert traits. Evolutionists have come round to the idea that these societies have to have both types in order to survive. At base, introversion and extroversion are biological far more than something we choose. If Cain occasionally missteps (shyness is not “inherently painful”—now there’s evidence of the dread extroversion bias she keeps warning us about if there ever was one) she is usually on target, demonstrating compassion, common sense, and good judgment.

An introvert myself, I was struck again and again at how the researchers and Cain seem to know me without ever having met me. Me, and seemingly all the introverts I know. The sheer bulk and range of the research accounts for some of this, as does the consistency of traits among most introverts. If you’re an extrovert, you’ll probably see yourself in here, too.

As important as anything here is the promise Cain holds out of a more balanced, stronger and wise society, one that embraces the inner- as well as outer-directed, one that is less neurotic than ours because introverts will be able to accept themselves instead of try to prove they’re someone they’re not. We’re talking about a radical change here, even a revolution, and some significant changes in this direction have already occurred. In the end we’ll be a lot healthier. Sound too difficult? We did it with left-handedness, and gay rights has already won the historical moment. So this isn’t a pipe dream. It’s a self-help book for America as well as for individuals. Shy rights, indeed. Why not now?

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

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