Book Reviews

Susan Cain
Random House 

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…in 1921 the influential psychologist Carl Jung had published a bombshell of a book, Psychological Types, popularizing the terms introvert and extrovert as the central building blocks of personality. Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

from  Quiet

 

We have become an “Extrovert Nation,” says Susan Cain, believing that “the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight,” and that introversion is “a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.”

She says we shifted from being a Culture of Character, defined by virtue (think Abraham Lincoln) to a Culture of Personality, defined and propelled largely by self-promotion (think Tony Robbins).

She attributes this change to the rising cult of the salesperson at the beginning of the 20th century, particularly Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

A self-confessed introvert, Cain asks, “How did we go from Character to Personality without realizing that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way?” and she examines the contributions of famous introverts, like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, quiet, self-effacing people who changed history. As a lifelong, card-carrying introvert, I found this a compelling argument.

Of course, introversion-extroversion is on a continuum, similar to masculinity-femininity, gay-straight, liberal-conservative, and there probably never was a person who was 100% extroverted, except maybe my Uncle Al, and he was insufferable.

She offers a quiz that helps the reader assess where he or she is on the “introvert-extrovert spectrum.” For example, extroverts get energy from being with people, while introverts feel their energy drained by being around people and need to recharge by being alone. When my extrovert brother and I were children and sent to our rooms as punishment, Gary suffered the torments of prolonged isolation (30 minutes), whereas for me—happy as a clam!

Cain is not saying there’s anything wrong with extroverts (I mean, they’re fun at parties, I suppose) but asks what is lost? She examines the impact on our decisions in business, education, and politics when energy and action are favored over reflection and thought. How many times have we seen situations where a group adopted a plan, not because it was the best idea, but because it was the most loudly expressed? (“Hey, let’s invade Iraq! We’ll figure out the justification later—WMDs or Al Queda or, something…”)

Nor is she saying that everyone should be introverts—Imagine 20,000 people quietly watching a SeaHawks game; or thousands at a political convention murmuring their approval of a candidate—but that introversion should be as valued as its loud and confident cousin.

I foresee a new political movement emerging—Introvert Pride!—flying a rainbow banner of subdued colors, proudly though unobtrusively proclaiming, “Introverts of the world, unite!...quietly.”

 


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (May 15-June 14, 2013.) Reprinted with permission.

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