“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain

“Be a leader!”, “Go for it!”, “Be bold! “. Such are the encouragements and words of advice we are accustomed to in our current society, where success is presumed and exposed as something that only the most fearless and the most courageous of us deserve. In other words, extroverts are the ones that will be likely to succeed, be powerful and popular. If you don’t have the guts, if you fail to step forward and make yourself noticed by the rest of the world, if you lack the charisma to charm those around you, you are most likely to be a ‘failure’, and a ‘loser’. I know, these words may sound harsh, but hey, be bold and outgoing if you don’t want them to be directed at you, or well, too bad, get used to it.
In this culture of extroverts, millions of introverts, yours truly included, feel the constant pressure to prove ourselves, to step up when we would often rather listen to others and their more polished arguments, to be part of the ‘cool group’, and to go out when we would rather stay at home alone with only a book as our faithful and entertaining companion.
And so for the millions of introverts out there, Susan Cain’s book “Quiet” comes not only as a fresh breath of air, but also as a pat on the back accompanied by the words “It’s okay. You are great just the way you are.”
Cain uses psychological experiments and data and her personal experience, along with the testimonies of introverts around her, to tell us that the strong and unilateral focus directed to extroverts has failed to recognize and acknowledge the powers and strengths of the ‘other’ group, the introverts.
True, the accounts of famous people and their lesser known introvert side, such as portrayed by Rosa Parks or Albert Einstein, which the author bases on stories, quotes and anecdotes from those around them, are not too impressive and often feel forced upon the readers.
However, the strength of this book resides in other areas: first, letting us know that it matters less whether we are solely introverts or extroverts per se, and that it’s more about the degree of how much of each side resides in us. Second, laying a path for the closeted introverts to declare who they are and accept themselves. Third, helping these previously tormented introverts that it is possible to find the appropriate balance within.
The book often lays out the hidden and less popular qualities introverts have (a higher degree of concentration, empathy, creativity, among others) to the point that I think some extroverts might be offended, but on second thought, that might be my caring introverted side worrying over nothing. Still, let us acknowledge that in contrast to the ‘persecution’ introverts have had to endure from society, parents, friends, companies and self-help books, Cain’s attempt at shedding light on the world of introverts and their qualities and abilities should not be considered as a very aggressive one.
Personally, I have spent most of my childhood and teenage years firmly believing I was an extrovert. But I guess that living in a small town as a foreigner, with a sister that was even shyer than I was helped me remain tricked into that mirage. Coming to Korea and going to university threw the harsh reality in my face however, that I was no more special than my peers or the person sitting next to me in the subway, and I eventually realized that I was undeniably an introvert. Sure, I enjoyed a night out here and then, clubbing once in a while for birthdays, but I also greatly enjoyed spending the weekend at home, where my most exciting experience would be encountering a fierceless hero or crying over the death of a character. Yet because people too often told me I was ‘lame’ or ‘boring’ if I didn’t have any plans for the big Friday Night (which, in my defense, comes every seven days, so really, not that special or unique), especially when I was working, I felt as if I had to take a raincheck with my favorite authors every weekend. This routine came to a point where I would secretely consider my dear friends lame and boring when they in fact were the ones to have the guts to own their introverted side, even on Friday nights. But the lies can only last for so long. I eventually came to accept, not without reservation and concern, that no matter how much I forced myself to party or to make small talk to a bunch of people I would probably share less than 10 words with for the rest of the year, I couldn’t change who I really was. And if I still had my doubts and fear of being labeled as ‘un-cool’, even after acknowledging the fact I had acknowledged my introversy, “Quiet” has erased much of it.
Once you have faced the undeniable truth, which I think, is the most challenging part, what comes next is a much less daunting task: finding the balance within yourself. After all, as members of society, showing our extroverted alter ego is often something inevitable. We will be put in situations where we have to mingle (probably one of the words I hate the most) or where we have to ‘advertise’ ourselves, unless we want to be doomed in a permanent state of isolation. In the long run, it’s about finding the right job and career. In the short run, that is, on a daily basis, it’s about going out for drinks once in a while and having fun, but being quite at ease staying at home with the next “Game of Thrones” book for the following weekend.
After all, this world needs and, most importantly, HAS both introvert-prone individuals and extrovert-prone individuals. It’s about time we cut the former group some slack, even though they will be too shy and polite to admit they’ve been needing the break for a very long time.