Maybe you lack the instinct for self-promotion. Maybe you can’t muster your employer’s rah-rah-rah-sis-boom-bah attitude. Maybe you’d rather stay home and read a novel instead of going out to the party of the year. So? Something’s the matter with you, and you should feel ashamed, right?
Wrong, says Susan Cain, author of Quiet, a vigorous, brainy and highly engaging defense of introversion. A self-proclaimed introvert herself, Cain examines in the first part of her book how our one-time “Culture of Character,” which gave roughly balanced respect to the positive characteristics of both introverts and extroverts, shifted to our contemporary “Culture of Personality,” a culture of marketing and self-marketing that almost exclusively (and to our peril) favors the risk-takers, the quick-decision-makers: in short, the extroverts.
Drawing on cultural histories and fascinating recent research in psychology and brain-function science, Cain challenges such misconceptions as “the myth of charismatic leadership,” the utility of group brainstorming and the idea that introversion is the result of bad parenting instead of an innate personality characteristic. “Probably the most common—and damaging— misunderstanding about personality types is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social,” she writes. “But as we’ve seen, neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social.” In the final section of her book, she offers sensible advice on strategies that introverts can use to succeed in a society that operates within a value system she calls the “Extrovert Ideal”—without betraying their essential selves.
Cain enlivens her discussion with road trips and case studies. She skeptically enrolls in a seminar given by Tony Robbins, who is probably the extrovert ideal incarnate. She visits students and professors at Harvard Business School and Asian-American students in Silicon Valley. She cites the experiences of Rosa Parks and Mohandas Gandhi. She interviews husbands and wives, parents and children.
Cain says her “primary concern is the age-old dichotomy between the ‘man of action’ and the ‘man of contemplation,’ and how we could improve the world if only there was a greater balance of power between the two types.” Hers is surely an argument worth talking about.