In today’s world we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We like to think we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the gregarious, the alpha, the soul of the party. We value those who prefer action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, the team-player versus the solitary-thinker, a talker rather than the quiet.
Our lives are profoundly shaped by personality and the single most important aspect of personality is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness and shyness – are now second-class personality traits. Extroversion is our personality ideal.
“Quiet” by Susan Cain is a very balanced look at how we’ve arrived at the “Extrovert Ideal” and the “Cult of Personality”. For the third of us who didn’t even realise that we are actually introverts, we get to heave a collective sigh of relief. There is a reason why we don’t fit in. There is a reason why we feel under pressure to conform. Without disparaging those of us who are extrovert (which we all are in some ways) – Susan Cain simply allows introverts, or just the introverted side of our character, a seat back at the dinner table.
In both Quiet and her Ted talks Susan Cain argues that introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated. This is an extremely welcome change to the many, many books and talks which celebrate success and achievement in purely extroverted ways. Solitude, peace, calm, contemplation, concentration, deep-thought, care and attention always were, and still are, virtues. If we can see who we are, and recognise how we fit positively into this world, it is infinitely easier to be ourselves.
Encapsulated perfectly by Megan Walsh of The Times – “Susan Cain’s Quiet has sparked a quiet revolution. In our booming culture, hers is a still, small voice that punches above its weight. Perhaps rather than sitting back and asking people to speak up, managers and company leaders might lean forward and listen.”