Psychology & Psychiatry - Personality
Susan Cain knows what she's talking about. A shy college student that managed to survive the very extroverted campus of Harvard Business School, she spent her first career years as a young lawyer scared to death of the talking necessary to her trade. Especially the dog-eat-dog vitriol throwing that often took place in such delicate negotiations. She's an introvert after all. Through many years of counseling clients, coming to treasure her personality, and interviewing well-known researchers in the field of introvert/extrovert psychology, she learned to come to grips with this inner trait, and to value it as a special part of her personality.
But she would be the first to admit, it's not easy living as an introvert in an extrovert world.
From elementary school on up through the career system, our culture has shifted from valuing character to valuing how loudly we can prove our qualifications. Managers and teachers encourage group collaboration and interaction, organizing desks into pods of seven or more where students are forced to work together, and designing open office spaces with very little privacy. It's supposed to follow the natural system of pollination, where a good idea improves the more people you have discussing it. But for the introvert, this concept is scary, and often forces one of two decisions: either act like an extrovert, or content yourself with being a socially awkward student and co-worker.
Susan Cain set out to change this trend. She divides Quiet into four sections: firstly, the rise of the extroverted culture, how it has affected our daily lives, and its negative connotations for introverts; secondly, the introvert personality itself, its physical characteristics, and the different studies psychiatrists have done on the symptoms of introvert tendencies, with a short detour into famous introverts; thirdly, foreign cultures that value introversion, and how this affects their school grades and society; and fourthly, how to love and live with the introverts in your life (as an extrovert) or how to open up with and value those extroverts in your life (as an introvert).
One of my favorite parts about Quiet was learning about my own personality--oftentimes it's hard for introverts to define or even explain why they act the way they do: the way they think or argue, or emotionally process. It's not always easy being clear to yourself in your own mind, or dealing with the inborn weakness to 'lock up' and hide it all. Time and again, I would read a sentence and excitedly think "YES! That's exactly what I do. That's exactly why I do it." One of the topics I enjoyed reading about was how introverts and extroverts act differently in society. For example, Cain writes that oftentimes introverts recharge best in solitude, while extroverts recharge best with social networking. Introverts start a conversation with the deep personal issues and end with the small chit-chat, while extroverts do just the opposite. And she even covers the issue of introverts and the Internet--how they act differently online than they do in face-to-face contact, and why that is.
Another thing I enjoyed was the scientific discoveries in Quiet. Introverts are literally thinner-skinned then extroverts. Their amygdala-the 'fight or flight' sense-processes differently than extroverts. And there are many other scientific gems which I will leave you to discover for yourself.
I would critique her style on a few points, however. Scattered throughout her book are a few words with negative connotations in our society, often used as swear words, that should from a Biblical as well as professional standpoint have been omitted. Cain is not a Christian as far as I can tell; she is not opposed to 'evangelicals' but makes no claim to it herself. Therefore, some of her conclusions and solutions to the issues introverts face and why they face them are clearly man-centered. I would certainly recommend as a Bible-believing Christian taking the time to evaluate as you go along. Evolution pops up continuously in how she believes the amygdala and other brain processes developed in introverts. I would disagree with her statements, and I took the time to write the correct Creationist-centered points in the margins. I recommend Quiet for older teens and up, and for those who practice careful evaluation with every book they read. Quiet contains much valuable and helpful information, but mixed in with man-centered theology that is not in agreement with the Christian faith, and therefore, should be discarded.
As I took the time to carefully evaluate and refute, I was encouraged by Cain's refreshing encouragement for introverts. Quiet helped me to value my God-given personality and recognize its strengths that are often looked down upon or completely overlooked in America's extrovert culture. It also helped me identify weak tendencies in my daily relationships, that require careful thought and willingness to step outside of my comfort zone to overcome.
I was glad to spend time learning more about this subject, and I hope that other introverts find encouragement to practice the strengths of their personality (looking at it as a gift from God) by using some of the principles that Cain collected and set forth in her latest book.
I received this book for free as part of the Waterbrook Multnomah Blogging for Books program.
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