Book Name

Quiet by Susan Cain

Rating

Sit Down and Read

One Line Summary

Keep ya head up introverts

The Setup

Have you ever been told that you’re “too quiet”? How about that you need to “stop thinking so much” or “be more social”?

I personally heard all of these at different points in my life. It was painful to think that for some reason, there was something wrong with me. Although I didn’t have trouble making friends and enjoyed the friends I had, I also didn’t seem to enjoy large scale socializing as much as some kids or even my own family members. Reading a good book, listening to music or many other solitude activities were often far more appealing.

As I grew older, it became obvious that this was unacceptable. The quiet were simply second class citizens in a society that prized outgoingness and socialability. And so I pushed myself hard to expand the limits of my personality, often to great success. Yet still I had a feeling that there must be something wrong with me if I had to force myself to do this.

That was before I took a Myers Brigg test, scored INTJ, and discovered that I was far from alone. In fact, there was an entire psychological field based around what I was called introversion.

Introversion is a physiological and psychological trait that determines a person’s responsiveness to outside stimulation. People more introverted tend to prefer less stimulation and people at the opposite end, extraverts, tend to prefer more. This shows up in a variety of ways in people’s lives, but for introverts, one is in their tendency to be quiet.

Quiet by Susan Cain is the introverts manifesto. A self-described introvert, Cain suffered from much of the same confusion I did growing up about her quiet personality. Many years older and many ways wiser, she wrote this book in order describe the power and benefits of introversion in a society that has chosen to glorify charm, social grace and snap decision making.

What Quiet is not is a book about “who’s better?” between introverts and extraverts. Cain acknowledges that both personality types have their merit and that most people exhibit both introverted and extraverted qualities at times. Rather, this is about evening the playing field and letting introverts know that they’re not alone. Or maybe even more important, than there’s nothing wrong with them.

Why it’s Awesome

Even though the story I described above about my childhood is accurate, it’s not the full picture. One of the first things you discover in reading Quiet is that people can act in an extraordinary range of behaviors, and to put rigid rules on what an introvert and extravert should look like is a mistake. I was no different. I’ve felt the pull of introversion and extraversion my entire life. In college, I’d be at a fraternity party on Saturday night where it might seem like I live for socializing, hitting on girls and beer pong. And then on Sunday, you’d find me alone in my room reading something.

Now I have a book blog where I write about books. Let’s just all agree that that’s about as nerdy and introverted as it gets. And yet, if I don’t get my time to socialize and express that wilder, extraverted side of myself, I’ll go nuts. When I’m done with a night out with my friends, I feel like I often have MORE energy, which is a classic trait of extraversion. Introverts conversely feel the need to get away and “recharge” after extended socializing.

So what is going on here? Is this whole introversion/extraversion thing a scham? Did I teach myself to act this way? Or am I just a walking contradiction?

The truth is a mix. As Cain points out, there are introverted people who live highly social lives. They’ve managed to construct an extraverted, social persona in order to deal with the realities of the world. So much so that for many people, the line between acting and “being” would seem very blurred.

It could be that this is what happened to me. But regardless, what definitely seems true is that I was at least born with a predisposition towards introversion, even if my personality has become far more complicated as I’ve gotten older.

One of my favorite parts was when she describes her experience of going to Tony RobbinsUnleash the Power Within event. I’ve been to UPW, and Cain’s description is hilariously accurate. Extraverts everywhere, demanding high fives and cheery smiles. Tony, the king of extraverts himself, telling you to scream at the top of you lungs and “make your move!”. It’s an introvert’s nightmare at certain points.

Don’t get me wrong though, UPW is amazing. Everyone should go. The point Cain is simply trying to make in her book is this: what does a society look like that has made Tony Robbins king?

One that values extraversion over introversion.

This is further seen in the response by foreign immigrants to the West. Cain interviews many students from Asia who go through immense culture shock when arriving to United States. They don’t understand why socializing and talking have such high value when in Asia, such talking is almost seen as disrespectful. Consider this quote from the Tao Te Ching: “Those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know”.

This is a complete 180 from Western culture, where we actually correlate knowing with talking. How many times have we’ve believed something just someone seemed to know what they’re talking about? “Confidence is the key” everyone says. Yet this same person in certain parts of Japan, China or Korea might be taken as a fool.

One thing I’ve learned is that the more you learn, the less you realize you know. There’s a humbleness that often comes with knowledge, a realization that you’ve been wrong many times in the past and will continue to be wrong. So why do we assume that “confidence” automatically dictates knowledge? Some of the least knowledgeable people I know act with confidence.

The reason for the culture differences between the East and West I believe actually boil down to their differing views on spirituality. For Asian countries with traditions like Zen and mediation, introversion is a far more desirable characteristic than extraversion because Enlightenment requires examining yourself. Ultimately in Enlightenment, all beliefs are shown to be false, even your beliefs about falseness. So why talk like you actually know anything?

Cain also cites studies that show that introversion may be a main cause of the mind’s ability to focus. Extraverts crave lots of external stimulus and often like to spread their attention around, while introverts prefer to keep their attention in one spot. Related to this, she quotes Steve Wozniak’s famous advice to “work alone” if you’re a creative type and busts the myth of the productivity of “brainstorming”.

I could keep giving examples from the point, but hopefully you’ve gotten the picture. If you’re an introvert, you actually have unfair advantages in many areas over extraverts. Use them well.

But what about the other side of the argument? Clearly there is a reason extraversion has become so highly valued in our society. What should an introvert do when faced with a situation where he may have to act extraverted?

I have a very unique perspective on this of my own, but let me explain Cain’s advice first. Cain argues that if you’re an introvert and your calling, your passion, requires you to be an extravert, then you will have to learn how to expand your personality at times. For instance, despite being terrified of public speaking initially, Cain has become an exceptional public speaker and is incredibly charming. However, stay true to your nature and be sure to structure plenty of opportunities for yourself to “recharge”.

I like this advice for several reasons. One, is that Cain isn’t making excuses just because physiologically she may be an introvert. If you have something you love to do, but you rationalize not doing it because “I’m an introvert”, that’s fucking bullshit. You’ve now become a victim of something which was originally meant to help you and you’re just trying to protect your identity.

At the same time, it’s realistic advice. Much like a body needs sleep, because introversion is physiological as wells as psychological, you’re going to need to recharge. And if you don’t, you will likely burn yourself out.

Why Does It Suck

I don’t believe Introversion and extraversion are as fixed as Cain argues. For instance, there’s a section where she talks about how introverts tend to “self-monitor”, i.e be self-conscious. But I know from my time doing game that self-monitoring is completely able to be pro-actively shut down by certain actions. Same thing with needing to recharge, feeling shy or any other qualities associated with introversion.

In fact, I’ve found these qualities to be so flexible as to question whether or not it’s even worth placing people in introverted or extraverted categories. There are better models to view the universe through.

The Wrap Up

Amazing book for anyone. If you have tendency for introversion this book will give you some perspective on your gifts you may never considered before. And if you’re an extravert, this will give you a better perspective on some of your potential weaknesses, as well as how to handle introverts. Either way, you’ll get insight into our current culture that few people have been able to see. Probably because they wouldn’t take a second to stop talking and look.

Published by Austin Kourakin