Intrigued by the title, I picked up Susan Cain’s book Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. My initial interest was geared towards the latter part of the title “a world that can’t stop talking.” I assumed the book would be a sort of sociological/cultural analysis of American society. But, after plowing through the first chapter, I found myself a bit startled to see so much of my own personality in her description of an introvert. In fact, she lists twenty “yes/no” questions for the reader to determine the extent of one’s introversion; the more one marks “yes,” the more one is introverted. I answered “yes” to 18 of the questions! The more I read on I could feel a sort of weight lifted off my shoulders. Indeed, because I am not particularly shy I had not thought of myself in this fashion; however, Cain points out that there is a common confusion between shyness and introvertedness. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Quite the contrary, introverts can give presentations and be social. The distinguishing trait is that introverts retreat from interaction in order to re-boot. Some introverts need more time than others.
I should back up here. Why was I feeling like a weight had been lifted? Cain explores the dynamics of being an introvert from biology, psychology, and referencing famous historical figures who were introverts. As I was reading I realized not only that I expressed the traits of an introvert but that I have spent of good deal of my life apologizing and feeling guilty about being introverted. Let me be blunt: I thought I was just plain weird!
From when I was young and throughout my college years, for example, I attended social gatherings but I was usually one of the first to leave. After two hours of chatting I wanted nothing more than to be at home and to read. Now, at the end of a long week of teaching, I notice that I need a day (or three) for myself to recover from all of the interaction. I absolutely love teaching, but to be effective I must take a time out from the world once the work week is over. I will plant myself at home with a book, turn off the phone, and sometimes postpone or reschedule social plans. Even emailing gets suspended for this re-booting time.
Reading, an inherently solitary affair, has been and remains a large part of my life. I read for nearly five hours a day. (Some days I have been known to read all day. When I started The Brothers Karamazov, for instance, no one saw me for a week.) I read a novel a week (give or take) in addition to reviewing my lectures, grading, and of course, reading Philosophy. This is something I would rarely share with anyone because I knew it was…well…weird. However, Cain’s book has assured me that this is quite typical and dare I say it, normal, given the disposition of being introverted. She traces the trend to become extroverted as part and parcel of an American “success” to the publication and phenomenon of How to Win Friends and Influence People. With the onset of this popular book, the ideal mode of communication swayed towards talkativeness and being outgoing. Success meant, in part, imbibing the extrovert persona. This inevitably eclipsed the power of the introverted disposition. Qualities such as listening and retreating to problem solve (rather than group think) were undervalued.
At different points in my life a few people have said things to me along the lines of I needed to be out more or that I must spend time alone because of some childhood trauma. (Side note: childhood IS traumatic.) While reading Cain’s book these memories sprouted and gave me pause, for I had allowed people to make me feel sheepish about me being me.
After reading Cain’s book I not only know more about the sociological and biological dimensions of introversion, but I’ve actually come to be more comfortable about myself. I’m not weird. I’m not anti-social. I’m an introvert!
For my dear readers, extroverts and introverts, never let anyone try to make you feel strange for delving into what you love. I think that is the overarching reason I wanted to create this post. Be stylish, interesting, social, quiet, creative, mathematical…whatever! Just be tuned into what makes you YOU and flourish.