Written in 2012, Quiet by Susan Cain aims at debunking the stereotypes surrounding the characteristics of an introvert. The author Cain is a certified lawyer from Harvard Law School and wrote the book in 2012, and a follow-up of the same in 2016. Apart from her books, she is famously known for her TED Talks – during one of which she announced her company Quiet Revolution, the name of which was inspired by her book. The company engages in collaborating with the people of the society and impart the training they would require on a journey to success.
Quiet mostly focuses on the norms prevalent in Western culture as it heavily emphasizes the social and pathological differences between a so-called extrovert and an introvert. Moreover, the culture encourages having an extrovert outlook and shuns an introvert one. Per the apt naming of the book, the author finds the distinction redundant, which is evident in the journey undertaken by a reader. Cain employs several tools of study to accurately differentiate between the two without undermining either of the social groups.
Cain had set her target audience and spoke directly to them – that is, employees, teachers, and parents. Since these are the people who make up an entire society, Cain assumes it is up to them to break the pre-existing norms and bring about equality in the workplace, school, and at home. She also attempts at convincing the recluse about how to live in the world dominated by the extroverts. Lastly, she preaches a world where introverts and extroverts can co-exist with equality in all respects.
1. The nature of the introverts
About a third of the world population is an introvert. The term introvert has baggage of numerous adjectives – shy, timid, and most importantly, quiet. Cain proceeds to list down similar characteristics of introverts and the thought that these traits hold them back from success. The world we inhabit tends to lean towards those who talk and not those who think. Little do they know one has to walk (which in this case, refers to thinking) before they can run (talk). The author does agree with the ‘odd’ behavior introverts are perceived as having but disagrees to the extent that it denies them success.
Western culture has always been pro-extrovert. They preach their teachings by talking, not by reflecting or pondering; they encourage asking rather than contemplating or investigating. Hence, success tends to be handed to those who walk on this predetermined path and denied to those who do all the background.
As Cain builds this concept up, it is quickly shattered as she starts naming the successful introverts of all time – who can easily be some of the most successful people to ever walk the earth. She throws names such as Mahatma Gandhi, Al Gore, Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Despite these figures harboring an introvert nature, they broke the norms and achieved what they deserved during their time in life.
The author further explains the distinctions in the real concept of introversion than those prevalent in the world. The people mentioned above could not have taken the reins of their lives (and that of several others) by being shy and timid. Shyness may be a characteristic of being an introvert but does not necessarily manifest all the time. Introversion is a choice, rather than a flaw. The choice of wanting to be comfortable, the choice of speaking at the correct time about an accurate issue, and the choice of maintaining a close-knit group of associates.
2. The historical bias against introverts
Cain recalls the historic influence of pro-extroverts that has continued to impact our views on introversion. The process of promoting outspoken people started back in the times of Greek civilization, where they worshipped their orators and the Romans who had elaborate and celebrated social lives. As the society become reformed, the aristocratic traits were dissolved to inculcate a more extravagant view of the world – there is no surprise that in the modern world, the term aristocrat serves as a synonym of ‘snobbish’.
With the roots of pro-extrovert nature grown deep into the soil, Cain enters the 20th century and highlights its ridiculous prejudice against quieter people. Most of the 1920s consisted of ensuring ‘winning personalities’ in people, an activity which involved psychologists and doctors to ingrain the traits and social workers to voice their biased opinions. All the newspapers, book, and magazines employed writers with this supposed winning personality to write pieces which would encourage people to adopt these winning personalities. As introverts were labeled as naïve and timid, their seclusion paved a way for ambiverts to essentially convert themselves to extroverts.
When the people in the 1950s realized that reading articles did not change the mindset of the introverts, they opted for an assured way – medications. One of the most popular pharmaceutical products in the 1950s guaranteed to impart their taker with a healthy personality, which was code for manipulating the psyche of an individual to make them more outgoing. An upsetting reality of this situation was the ludicrous branding of this unethical drug as an anxiety medication administered to those who could not uphold behavioral expectations.
Cain then proceeds to highlight the hypocrisy of institutions as they tend to showcase facts according to their discretion. Taking the example of Harvard Business School, one of the premium institutes in the world, Cain describes their need to admit and graduate extroverts. However, she mentions Bill Gates, one of the most successful CEOs in the world, who also happens to be an introvert. This debunks the theory of extroverts being successful world leaders, as preached by business schools.
3. The capabilities of extroverts
The author stated that introverts have the real ability to be creative, putting in hard work and the drive to do hands-on activities. It is in their nature to prefer to engage in activities that need the level of perfection which can be achieved only with a one-man army – this trait of theirs allows them to work alone. The stereotype associated with introverts about their dislike towards the group is partially true and depends on the other group members and their instincts.
Recent research suggests that the commitment to work and learning is less in groups and therefore, learning must occur through an individualized process. Cain mentions the famous biologist Charles Darwin, who remained in a meditative state during his childhood to utterly understand the science of humans and put forward his thoughts in the form of his approved theories.
The shaping of a personality is a function of genetics and the influence of the environment. The difference in either of the two produces a difference in the personality of the person. Who is to say one is right and the other wrong, given that both are normal and healthy? The viewpoint of the introverts varies from that of the extroverts, but it does not label them unworthy of rewards.
4. There is enough space in the world for both
The author emphasizes the theme of the book by dedicating a huge chunk of the book to explaining how all the personalities can find solace in the world. The way she explains it is rather simple – she puts forth that introverts steer away from stimulating environments, while extroverts specifically thrive in them. This simple physical distinction is enough to comprehend that both can exist in their world without having to bash one another.
Susan Cain makes an anecdote of the difference between sensitive people and introverts. Sensitive people are powered by an emotional response to all the faces of life due to their overall heightened expression of the same, while all introverts may not conform to this description. The perception of introverts being overly emotional beings is yet another significant piece of the stereotype that Cain tries to break.
5. The need for improving the introvert attitude
Cain explains that the behavior of the introverts may not be true to their personalities, but as a result of the societal treatment, they are subjected to. Being keen thinkers, introverts can think of ideas that cannot be culminated by the extroverts. One of the major ‘problems’ associated with the introvert ideology is the inability to put forward their thoughts, no matter how great they are.
In a workplace set-up, brilliant ideas are rewarded by fame – something of uninterest to the introverts. Thus, in a way, the reward system has prepped the introverts to not speak out and hence, be away from the commotion. An appealing reward for an introvert would be something subtle – something as simple as a deep, meaningful conversation. However, the silence of the introverts is an overall loss for the world since the ideas presented by a third of the population is not being heard. As mentioned before, introverts and extroverts can coexist, and the solution lies in a mutual compromise between the two.
6. The usage of the soft power
The authority that the extroverts exudate can put people in a trance – a quality which is essential for being a lawyer or a leader. The aggression put in by the extroverts has a lasting effect on people, which is why they are wired to succeed. But as Cain had mentioned before, several introverts have also left their print on the world by using soft power. Gandhi is one of the introverts who chose to use soft power to inspire and influence his countrymen and the British alike.
Soft power is a passive, aggression-free, and peaceful way of a conversing, which Gandhi skilfully used to negotiate with the colonizers and in a non-violent way. His continual passive approach towards the situation convinced the British of his power to not spend his energy on trivial things. This power of the introverts helps them stay on their path to their goal and not be swayed away by their emotions (which makes them different from sensitive people).
7. The behavior of introverts as extroverts
The modern society has marked extroverts as being successful, causing the introverts to convert their personality to fit into the mold of a successful person. Cain mentions that while this can help introverts achieve their goals, it can get tiresome and take a mental toll on them. While adaptation to an environment can help an introvert perform better, they must take it upon themselves to make themselves comfortable there, which can take time.
A disadvantage of pretending to be an extrovert is the restorative time they need – which can be unproductive for them. Some may say they have reached their limit of social network and resort to an unproductive and unhealthy niche.
8. How to understand introverts
The extroverts can help make a situation more comfortable for an introvert by meeting them in the middle. A mutual understanding between the two parties is a way to relate to each other. Extroverts lowering their tendency to talk and introverts trying to speak firmly is an effective way to communicate without the sword of their clashing personalities over their heads.
9. How to raise introvert children
One of Cain’s target audience were parents. Since a child’s upbringing determines all the other aspects of their life, Cain focuses on parenting as one of her agendas. Introverted children are shy and silent but need their house as their safe space. Cain explains the need for parents to respect the personality of their child and not cause any pressure on them to behave in a certain way – something that can affect their self-esteem.
That being said, parents must ensure their children are not inside a cocoon and encourage them to take social risks by articulating such situations for them – playdates, parties and other social gatherings must have friendlier and familiar guests to the child. Parents should not force friendships upon their children and let them form naturally.
As a child begins school, the parents should take their introvert child on a tour of the school and familiarise them with their teachers and other administrators and any fellow children, if possible. This helps in realizing that the school – like their home – is a safe space for them to be themselves. Since introverts have a hard time at school to make friends, a teacher’s support is also crucial.
The lack of expression by an introvert child will keep their talents hidden. Cain suggests parents monitor their children and encourage them to keep up with their hobbies, which can someday turn into talents. Expression through talent – such as singing or dancing – is a healthy practice for the child. Lastly, introversion should not be perceived as an issue for the child. The parents must do their best to keep the child happy, with or without a big group of friends around them – because chances are, the big group setting will upset the child more than make them content.