Quiet – Susan Cain

Quiet explains a lot: why I like to spend time alone, need down time, prefer to write not talk, struggle to participate in groups, prefer the ‘flow’ of a focused activity, can wax lyrical about something I care about… and much else. And it says it’s ok, too.

Cain’s book is a piece of polemic, journalism and popular psychology in the style of Malcolm Gladwell. It was apparently years in the writing and researching, and it shows in the depth of learning and breadth of interviews and ideas.

She covers a lot of ground but never loses the core of her argument: that introverts are a significant part of the population yet are overlooked by our cultural bias toward the louder, charismatic, quick thinking but shallower extroverted ‘man of action.’

She shows the costs of this at work, in our social life, in schools and in our parenting. Not only do individuals who are introverted often suffer from lower self-esteem and don’t always flourish, but society doesn’t benefit from their creativity of introverts.

There are so many good ideas and ‘policy’ prescriptions in this book that I won’t summarise them, other than to say that we need to recognise, accommodate and value introversion not try to push people or ourselves to overcome it, as if it’s some kind of problem.

Any criticism of the book? Only one, a little one. Cain sets the book up as a battle between two personality types: the introvert and extrovert. But the reality is much more complicated. Because she adopts broad definitions of these terms most people will have elements of each, and they will be different at different times in their lives. (As the not normally pithy philosophers Deleuze and Guattari say at the start of A Thousand Plateaus: ‘The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us were several, there was already quite a crowd.’)

Few people are pure introvert or pure extrovert and so the complexity is, in fact, that elements of both are within all of us and we must find ways to recognise, accommodate and value introverted qualities whenever and in whomever they arise.

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