Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A celebration of introverts

Editor's Note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. Fellow teacher Mr. Bill Mustard recommended Quiet (2012) by Susan Cain.

For odd reasons, I tried to avoid reading Quiet. One of my students did a presentation on the book that was so strong, I felt I didn't need to read it. Plus, it is so popular that I figured it could only be a letdown.

I was wrong.

Quiet is an awesome book, but not because of its thesis about the power of introverts. Rather, it's such a good read because of how Susan Cain shapes her narratives and the many adventures she takes.

She interviews and cites a veritable who's who of modern thought in the book, and I found the book to be a page-turner. The book starts off like gangbusters with its section on our society's ideal of extroverts. Cain traces part of our society's love of the extrovert to Dale Carnegie, who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. That's a long, long time ago, and Carnegie is no relation to the Carnegies. In fact, Dale Carnegie's original last name was spelled "Carnagey."
Cain correctly shows how extroversion is strived for and often rewarded. This doesn't necessarily help our society or lives. My added theory on the advent of the extrovert ideal is that TV spurred that on as well, especially after the JFK/Nixon debate of 1960.

Also, in her first section, Cain attends a Tony Robbins seminar and explores the myth of charismatic leadership and talks about how collaboration — dominated by the loud ones — often turns into unproductive groupthink. I found these sections fascinating.

I found the next section about biology, and how it relates to introverts and extroverts, the least interesting. But then the book's final two sections are strong, especially the part on Asian-Americans. It becomes utterly obvious that most of our interpretations of introverts and extroverts are based on culture, and I'm not so sure we question our culture enough.

My main criticism for Quiet is that maybe Cain sticks to her thesis too much. Not everything we do is about being an introvert and extrovert, and aren't we all really ambiverts? (An ambivert is someone with both qualities of an introvert and extrovert.)

One fear I have is that introvert is mistakenly interpreted as a shy person, and they are much different. Being shy entails feeling anxiety around others. An introvert is not necessarily shy, but feels revived with lone time.

If any overarching message comes out of Quiet, I believe it can be that we all don't have to be wildly social. While I find social skills to be important for all in this world, I respect those who appreciate solitude and don't feel they need to be the gregarious life of the party.

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