Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (Crown, $26.00, 352 pages)
If you’re an introvert, should you devote your energies to activities that come naturally, or should you stretch yourself…?
Quiet grants a marvelous sense of relief to anyone who has been concerned because they are easily tired by energetic crowds, fierce competition or small talk with strangers. Susan Cain, a former Wall Street attorney specializing in negotiation, has made good use of her natural inclinication to be an introvert. This book is the culmination of literally a lifetime of being one of the quiet people.
Ms. Cain took a long, thoughtful look at the existing literature and studies focused on extroversion vs. introversion. Moreover, she travelled around meeting with various well-respected experts in the fields of neuroscience and psychology to assure that her book would contain the latest in findings. In addition, Ms. Cain is a consultant to businesses and professionals who are seeking the skills to succeed in a culture that has, within the last 100 plus years, shifted from valuing character above any other human characteristic, to one that dotes on fame, aggression, group thinking and power. Her expertise and ability to see both sides of the issue lend great credibility to her writing.
The book begins by explaining how we have arrived at a new set of values only recently that has been embraced by business, politics and popular culture. The current cultural ideal is the Mighty Likeable Fellow that replaced the person who exemplified the Culture of Character in the 19th century when the ideal self was serious, disciplined and honorable. We are told that Dale Carnegie was the first well-known speaker and teacher to gather the hapless masses to his events so that they may “win friends and influence people.” His books are still in print and his work is carried on in the 21st century through seminars, etc.
Today’s counterpart ot Dale Carnegie is Tony Robbins whose Unleash the Power Within program has been attended by thousands of people seeking to become the ideal person/salesman. This reviewer had the experience of staying at a Hyatt Regency atrium hotel where Mr. Robbins was conducting one of his seminars. I will own up to the fact that I am an introvert who is never-the-less able to deliver speeches to hundreds of folks on topics that matter to me. And, no, I don’t get sweaty palms or stage fright!
After a long day filled with much discussion among licensed professionals who were deliberating very serious public health, safety and welfare matters, I adjourned to my third floor hotel room that was facing the atrium. To my dismay, at 9:30 p.m. the Robbins acolytes proceeded to perform the famous fire walk, complete with chanting, whooping and hollering. Needless to say, I fled to the far corner of my room, pushed earplugs into position and wished for it to be over soon. By 11 p.m. I was exhausted and nearly in tears. Finally, the last fire-walker completed the dash and the group disbanded.
The above-described event could have been exciting, stimulating and entertaining; however, it had the opposite effect. When I returned home and described the goings on to my immediate co-workers back at my office, most of them could not understand why I didn’t rush down to enjoy the excitement. That puzzled and even upset me. Some 15 years later Ms. Cain’s book recently came into my possession and it has provided the answer to that old puzzle.
As in any engaging survey, Quiet begins with a few historic elements that capture the reader’s attention – Rosa Parks’ refusal to obey the bus driver in 1955 along with background on Carl Yung and other pioneers in the study of psychology, as well as clearly identifiable introverts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It proceeds to explain the logic behind today’s culture from a popular perspective and moves on to the physiological reasons behind the brain’s response to stimulus. From there it explores the geographic clustering of introversion and extroversion in societies around the world. Lastly, Quiet offers really helpful suggestions for understanding the difference between the two types. (Actually, the extroversion and introversion tendencies that people have can be plotted graphically and they are more of a band with locations rather than two poles.)
If you’re wondering if you are more introverted or extroverted, or if you have a good idea, this book is well-worth the time and money to broaden your understanding of how we function in today’s atmosphere of fame and larger-than-life personalities.
As Ms. Cain so engagingly states, “If there is only one insight you take away from this book, though, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself.”