I recently read a fascinating book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Cain, a self-declared introvert, has extensively researched the world of introverts, and it turns out that one third of us fall into this category.
Whilst extroverts are sociable, outgoing and talkative, introverts prefer solitude, calmness and working independently. The fundamental difference between the two is that extroverts are re-energised by being with people whereas introverts are re-energised by being alone.
Cain makes the point that our culture is fundamentally geared towards the needs of extroverts, from group learning in schools to team-bonding retreats and open-plan offices at work. More than that, our culture openly values the sociable personality over the quiet thinker. Cain is deeply concerned that our love of extroversion and sociability comes at great cost to the introverts and their potential contribution to the world. She wants us to reconsider how the scales could be balanced so that our environment allows for both types to flourish.
Historically, some of the most mind-blowing inventions, creations and original ideas have come from introverted people, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Chopin, J. K. Rowling, Albert Einstein and even Dr Seuss (Theodore Geisel). Could you imagine a world where these people didn’t make a creative impact because they didn’t have the space for their ideas to develop?
Cain advocates the unique qualities of introverts: their ability to listen (because they talk less) and strategise, their sensitivity, calmness, and their equally effective but different path of getting to the outcome.
She also devotes a section of the book to parents of introverted children, urging parents to take the time to appreciate and understand their child’s unique personality, especially when it differs from theirs. Shyness or preference for books over socialising does not mean there’s anything psychologically wrong with your child! He/she may well be an introvert.
If you happen to be an introvert, or are in a relationship with one, or are parenting one, then I think you will find this book to be very useful. If you are an introvert, there will be a deep sigh of relief as all those little quirks you thought were personal failings turn out to be perfectly normal. And if I may go a step further, you could well feel deeply understood for the very first time.