In this book, Susan Cain takes an elegant approach towards discovering the elements of an introverted, social profile. The book “Quiet” doesn’t simply provide research data defining personality complexes. It speaks to all the pieces of the pie. Well, at least, to my gourmet, intro-extroverted pie.
Cain refers to a large amount of psychological studies conducted by Carl Jung. She also mentions the results of behavioral testings and how the introvert body physically reacts to a variety of stress inducing environments. She even goes to the extent of adding a few stories from highly credible psychiatrists and their observations of introvert children. Rosa Parks, Warren Buffet, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Bill Gates are all referenced in “Quiet”. Cain uses these public figures as examples of going within one’s self to find an unspoken voice of inspiration.
2. Key ideas and insights of the book
Here are the main concepts used by Cain to support her idea that a world balanced between introvert and extrovert acceptance is necessary for mankind to exist in harmony.
° Introvert vs Extrovert
Cain refers to people that have a majority of the traits from the list below as introverts (A majority meaning more than half of the traits):
Reflective / Cerebral / Bookish / Unassuming / Sensitive / Thoughtful / Serious / Contemplative / Subtle / Introspective / Inner-directed / Gentle / Calm / Modest /Solitude-seeking / Shy / Risk-averse / Thin-skinned
The following list of traits are apparent in the personalities of extroverts:
Ebullient / Expansive / Sociable / Gregarious / Excitable / Dominant / Assertive / Active / Risk-taking / Thick-skinned / Outer-directed / Lighthearted /Bold / Comfortable in the spotlight
Cain stresses it’s not common to find a person who falls into one category unanimously. She repeats this idea consistently throughout the book.
However, if a majority of your personality traits fall under the introvert list then this tends to be your disposition. Vice versa for an extrovert.
The degree to which we exercise these traits is shaped by our cultural influence. School, work, politics, and relationships all have an effect on the extremities of our introvert-extrovert spectrum.
° The example of Rosa Park
A person can be an introvert yet learn to embody the qualities of an extrovert when the situation deems necessary. Cain speaks to the actions of Rosa Park: a quiet, mild, and mannered lady who typically kept to herself. When she refused to give up her seat in 1951, she did so quietly. Rosa Parks witnessed racial inequality on a day to day basis, the majority of her life. She internalized this bitter injustice. It would take the bold actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to not only follow through on her actions, but amplify them. Together, Dr. King and Rosa Parks would usher in the civil rights movements. A movement that called for the ideas and expressions of the extroverted leaders in the forefront and the introverted thinkers in the background.
° Man of Action vs. Man of Contemplation
Cain refers to a number of studies by psychologist Carl Jung and Girdon Allport in conveying the idea that man is inherently either one of action or one of contemplation.
Gordon Allport created a diagnostic test of “Ascendance-Submission” to measure social dominance. He believed that it was normal for a person raised in a family of older siblings to grow into a reserved or withdrawn adult.
Furthermore, Jung and Allport argued that it was the treatment of introverts as inferior or not “aggressive enough” that created a negative connotation for the word “quiet”. There’s also references to William Whyte’s “The Organization Man”, a 1956 best-seller, describing parents and teachers and their conspiracy to overhaul the personalities of quiet children.
An element in the book that surprised me was Cain’s mentioning of a pharmaceutical drug called Miltown, developed in 1955. Miltown was used to treat anxiety. By 1960, a third of all US prescriptions was written for Miltown or a similar drug. Cain correlates the development of Miltown, the introduction of public speaking trainings (Dale Carnegie), the struggle of shy students in the classroom, and corporate favoritsm with the idea of man devaluing the introvert and painting the extrovert personality as the norm.
° The Role of Culture
Robert McCrae, a Scottish psychologist argues that culture plays a large factor on a person’s inward or outward expression.
Cain refers to his study which included a large population of Asian high-school students. After meeting their family and observing the students’ social behaviors, he learned that the popular students were not the funniest or most outspoken, but the elite were the educated. The parents of the popular students preferred that their children remained engaged with studies over social events. Naturally, these students would become introverted. Therefore, McCrae believed that Asians were, simply, an introverted culture, by default. Cain draws on this research in support of the idea that one’s extrovert or introvert disposition is shaped by their cultural, family, and educational upbringing.
3. Personal conclusion
This is a good read for anyone who jumps between the ropes of introvert-driven decisions and those driven by the extrovert thought patterns. The explanation of each personality isn’t extremely in depth. This might not be a personal growth book for an extrovert.
However, the book shouldn’t have to go into this detail. Cain speaks to the extremes America has taken to idolize those with an extrovert demeanor while the introverts are left behind. From the birth of the term “extrovert”, to the creation of Dale Carnegie courses that reprogram the mindset of the introvert, Cain paints a clear picture that the extrovert and the introvert are pieces of a larger puzzle. This puzzle couldn’t exist without either of them.
° The clue
As I read through “Quiet”, I often wondered if Cain herself was an introvert or extrovert. I wondered what inspired her to write such a passionate piece of work about two personality types. Then, I made my way to the end of the book, and learned about Cain’s grandfather. He had a great influence on her ideas towards the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Besides that, he was known in the community as a leader, a rabbi. Her grandfather was admired by most children and adults. He spoke with confidence in front of an audience. His peers respected him. Yet Cain fell in love with the other side of her grandfather; the side that liked to lock himself in a room and fade into the scene of good book.
As a little girl, Cain imitated her grandfather. She avoided playing with other children to find company in a book. After entering her teens, Cain decided to branch out and explore the extroverted side of the social class. She found herself torn between emulating the characteristics of her loving grandfather and trying to appease society. Like myself, Cain has experienced the battle of displaying extroverted qualities while holding on to the inner peace, achieved through going within.
We all want to be admired, appreciated, praised, and valued. Some of us blossom under the constant showers of attention and accolades from our peers. At the other side, there are some of us that prefer attention in quieter ways, that allow for self-reflection, observation, and internal growth. Here’s to all of us and those in between. This is a good read.