Although I am somewhat familiar with the structure of the book publishing industry (in Canada, at least), I don’t know the inner workings of these companies well enough to explain why some books get the high marketing budgets that make them instant bestsellers. No, I won’t be discussing Fifty Shades of Grey if that’s what you were thinking; rather, I’ll use as this post’s starting point the book Quiet by Susan Cain. I am glad that somebody took a leap of faith and made the call to grant it the heavy promotion that it received. It was a leap because nobody wrote about introverts so specifically, explicitly, and boldly before.
The book is essentially a vindication of introverts in today’s loud, fast-paced, ultra-connected world. There were many things that I loved about it, but most of all I loved the fact that Cain – while remaining casual and conversational in tone – completely destroys the utterly silly societal paradigm of what an “introvert” is.
Introverts are not shy, maladjusted, lonely; they do not lack confidence, nor do they lack “social skills.” Introverts do process information differently (slowly, internally, personally, over-conscientiously) and do interact with others differently (with more analysis, more time for conversation processing, less tolerance for interaction overload). They are highly sensitive; as toddlers, they react to stimuli more expressively than their less sensitive peers who grow up to be extroverts. Primarily extroverted people blend into their social environment without too much effort while the primarily introverted ones have to rationalize their place in it first. The latter group also has to get their fill of “alone time” on a regular basis to avoid total exhaustion and burnout. These points paint a clearer portrait of self-identified introverts. Yes, I absolutely and without a doubt place myself among that population.
The implications of being an introverted member of society at large are easy to identify: the extroverts are louder, thus their ways of thinking become the norm. Group work, team building activities, large parties, and a busy social schedule become more associated with happiness and “rightness” than their solitary alternatives – individual work, quiet time, one-on-one discussions.
And while it’s difficult to be an introvert in the loud world of today, maybe it’s our own fault: we apologize far too much for it.
Instead of trying to break our inborn habits, maybe we should realize that they are, in a word, okay. It’s okay to reply to text messages an hour or two after you receive them; to take walks alone on your lunch hour; to cross your fingers and pray for a single-person cubicle at your new workplace instead of those awful four-person ones. And furthermore, none of us are really the extreme: I don’t know a single person who is an absolute introvert, none that are absolute extroverts. If we all lie along a gradient, why aren’t we more tolerant of our immediate neighbours who are actually not separated from us by a divisive definition?
Introverts really need to start displaying self-assurance and confidence in themselves (the confidence that they do inherently have, by the way). I am happy that besides Cain’s successful book, I’ve seen small changes in people that point to a different way of thinking. Maybe we value the quiet reflective ones because of the economic crisis (which could have been avoided with some restraint and reflection), maybe it’s because the degree to which we are all connected makes us all crave some down time: the “extrovert ideal” may not be quite as prominent as it was a few years ago.
I highly recommend the book Quiet to anyone and everyone, but here is a TED Talks video in which the author summarizes her main points; it is well worth watching, too.