Resisting the Culture of Extroversion : Stop, Look, and Listen!
Reviewed By Diane Cole
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
By Susan Cain
Crown Publishers. 333 pages.
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"Mom, you're reading that, too!?" My 23-year-old-son, home for a visit, was astonished to see that each of us had picked up the same book: Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. It immediately gave us something to-well-talk about.
Forget the paradox that one of Cain's goals in writing her informative exploration is to get introspective types like my son and me to give a shout-out for ourselves. (It put me in mind of the oxymoronic cry, "Anarchists, unite!") The very fact that Cain's celebration of strength through soft-spokenness is on the bestseller list suggests we've been listening (quietly) for a long time, baby, awaiting someone like Cain to speak up for us. And she definitely provides a hefty boost of self-esteem to anyone who lives by the principle that you take in more by listening than by interrupting.
Indeed, from chapter to chapter, Cain champions bright students like my son, who lost grade points every semester of his school career for not raising his hand enough (or, as he put it, for refusing to be a loudmouth). She validates introspective types like me, whose lifelong passions include reading, playing music, and taking long walks (preferably in a national park). She delivers some long-overdue respect to the "geeks" and "nerds" and "eggheads" of the world. And she does all this with more than enough smarts and charm to demonstrate that we really are quite delightful souls-once you let us get a word in edgewise.
In making her case (the author practiced corporate law before switching careers to teach negotiation skills and write), Cain uses a broadly encompassing "cultural" (as opposed to a narrower, more psychological) definition of the quiet temperament. An introvert, Cain writes, is someone "who recognizes him- or herself somewhere in the following constellation of attributes: reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned." Cain contrasts this quiet type with the man- or woman-of-action type, whom she describes as "ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold, and comfortable in the spotlight."