In a phone conversation one of my sisters and I were discussing which of our brothers, sisters, and progeny were extroverts and which were introverts when she brought up this book, Quiet, and recommended it. I had never heard of it, but upon conducting a bit of initial research I found out that it was quite famous and possibly would be an interesting read. I don’t go much for books of popular psychology offering self-help remedies that will supposedly cure personal and societal ills; however, this one is well researched and offers insight into the vital role of introverts in a world that applauds and sometimes worships extroversion.
I definitely fall onto the introverted side of the ledger. I love reading, writing, and other contemplative activities and have a difficult time, COVID aside, getting out to socialize, especially if I am going to be plunged into a roomful of people I don’t know. This hindered my maturation through elementary school, high school, and my one year of college. I found it all but impossible to be gregarious and outgoing; as a result, my friends were few. At my high school in particular, a large emphasis was put on the cult of the macho sportsman. To be popular, you had to be a football or basketball player, strut around in your letterman’s jacket, and talk boisterously in the hallways. Quiet guys like me never had a chance.
It wasn’t just at my high school, though; it remains a national phenomenon. Cain calls it the extrovert ideal, and more than other countries, the United States is obsessed with it. The most successful individuals are supposed to be assertive, dominant, forceful, brash, and outgoing. Although they are often reprehensible individuals, these are the leaders we supposedly should look up to. The quiet ones, although they may be more intelligent and have brilliant ideas, are relegated to second class citizenship, to the roles of followers, sycophants, and acolytes.
The first part of Quiet, in fact, is taken up with an analysis of the extrovert ideal. Cain then explores studies concerning the relationship of biology to introversion and extroversion. There is also a section on the role of introversion and extroversion in various cultures; in particular Cain compares the blatant extroversion inherent in U.S. culture with the quieter, more thoughtful, and more respectful cultures of Asia. And finally, Cain goes into suggestions on how introverts can not only survive but thrive in societies that favor extroversion.
As I was reading this book, I wondered how I, as an introvert, ever managed to break free of my torpor, leave my hometown and my native country, travel the world, and meet new friends and acquaintances from many diverse countries and cultures. Cain provides an answer to this seeming paradox in the so-called Free Trait Theory. According to this theory, we are born with certain personality traits such as introversion, but we can overcome these and act out of character, as extroverts in other words, in the pursuit of core personal projects. These are things that you consider so important that you are able, at least temporarily, to overcome your introversion. They may include loved ones, important work, or anything else you place great value upon. In my case, I wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world, but I felt stifled and inexperienced at home; I felt that I had to go out and live life and have adventures so that I could have something worth writing about. This gave me the impetus to overcome my introversion and get out there. I was willing to overcome my timidity and leap into the void of the unknown in pursuit of my dream.
In closing, let me emphasize that this book is not only for introverts. Extroverts can benefit from the insights Cain offers as well. It will help them realize that it is delusional to think that extroverts form some sort of hierarchy. The important thing is to bridge the gap and create an understanding that will allow families, societies, and cultures to benefit from both personality types.