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Exploring What It Means to Be Quiet

(A Friends Journal Book Club Installment)

Do you like quiet?

If so, you’re not alone. You may have thought you were alone, but Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is about quiet people who don’t get much recognition in our society. Cain claims that in America, we think talking is akin to leadership, that comfort in large groups is what it takes for people to succeed.

That might be true, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. In the beginning of her book, Cain talks about a different American ideal back in the early twentieth century, what she calls the “Culture of Character”:

In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth. (21)

Currently, Cain points out, we are in the Culture of Personality. Americans want to be entertained, so people like celebrities or motivational speakers get a lot more attention than they would have a century ago. The dominant culture has affected us so much that we start convincing even our young children to be more extroverted (if they’re not already), and we feel less acceptable in society if we want a little peace and quiet during the day, some time alone to recharge.

Questions for Discussion

Would you rather live in the Culture of Character or the Culture of Personality?

What are the benefits and drawbacks of either or both? 

What does it feel like to be outside of the cultural norm? 

 

Not sure if you’re an introvert or extrovert? Take the Quiet Quiz on Susan Cain’s website.

Buy the book. (Or borrow it from your local library for free!)

*This post is for the August/September book club pick, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Feel free to comment whether you’ve read the book or not! (If you can’t join us this month, what about next month? We’re reading The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen in advance of our October issue about money.)

Jana Llewellyn, your host, is associate editor of Friends Journal

Posted in: August 2012, Book Club

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11 Responses to Exploring What It Means to Be Quiet

  1. Nicky August 1, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Will publications be available for electronic download (kindle like)?

    • Jana@FJ August 2, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Nicky, We’ve provided a link above to purchase the book. (The book is available as an e-reader and hard copy.) Hope you enjoy!

  2. Patty Quinn August 2, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    I’m more comfortable in a culture of character because I’m an introvert (or mainly an introvert, depending on the company I’m in), but if the culture of personality weren’t as pervasive as it is, I don’t think it would necessarily be a bad thing. I’m troubled by people I know who are absorbed in what I’d call the “cult of personality.” They can name to you chapter and verse about the Kardashians, Lindsey Lohan, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and all the rest out there–but ask them one basic question about civics or current events, and they draw a blank. That’s troubling.

    I feel well outside the cultural norm, and I find it disorienting. I keep company mainly with other people who are also outside the cultural norm. I have a feeling of my brain being wired very differently from those inside the cultural norm. I have a sense of alienation sometimes, a bit like I’m a being from another world.

    • Jana@FJ August 2, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Patty, Thanks for your comment. You probably are wired differently. In one of the chapters from Cain’s book, she shares studies of babies who either react a lot to outside stimulation or barely at all. Those babies show similar traits as they grow—the ones who react a lot to stimulation are actually the introverts. I find it a relief that some of this is genetic. The hard work is in accepting who we are, rather than trying to change ourselves to fit into others’ expectations.

  3. Katie Dockhorn August 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    I haven’t read the book yet, but these are my opinions on the issue. As much as I believe it is important for introverts like myself to accept the fact that it is OK to feel uncomfortable speaking out in group settings, I don’t think that introverts should limit what they let others know so much so that it reduces what they contribute to society. It is important for introverts who don’t feel comfortable contributing in a certain format to make sure they let their voices be heard in other ways. Introverts could decide to hold one-on-one conversations with someone who could then transmit their ideas to others, write down their thoughts, or even create artwork. My mom has always told me to forget about what others think, and I think this has also enabled me to communicate my thoughts in whatever way that I choose.

    • Jana@FJ August 6, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      Self-reliance might be one of the most important traits one needs to succeed in life, and it sounds like your mom understands that. If only that could be the main focus in many schools: building confidence, character, and self-reliance!

  4. Sarah Westbrook August 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    I’m another commenter who hasn’t read the book, but I do appreciate these kinds of discussions, which probe the boundaries of kinds of personalities and the thresholds of society’s acceptance. People are incredibly complex, and sometimes I find certain kinds of terms and categories (like “introvert” and “extrovert”) dissatisfying. We are so much beyond what we appear to be, which is both beautiful and a little frightening. It seems to be a part of human life to be, in many ways, alone, isolated by virtue of the limits of the body. We can’t really hope to find our way to the quiet, sacred places which live inside other people (and I think a lot of us have noisy, irreverent spaces, as well), though there are surely moments in life when connections between minds are sparked (for example, through reading and writing others’ work). We’re a jumble of qualities and traits, and sometimes I think it’s deceiving to believe you can fully know yourself. Yet, we do have to deal with labels and stereotypes and must unconsciously apply them in certain circumstances. This is why I like the message of Susan Cain’s book so much. It acknowledges this inescapable truth while affirming the rightness of defying it anyway.

  5. Zeb August 5, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    I have read the book. I enjoyed her bemused look at the Tony Robbins method, which just so happened to be in the news recently. I finished the book feeling like the author, being a success story herself, found too many other introverted success stories to be representational of the population. For many introverts, it’s much more than feeling outside of the cultural norm; it’s wider and deeper than that. Some of us can’t “succeed” within this culture because the societal framework or paradigm (dislike that word) is so distorted. And while introverts are often very good at being self sufficient and resourceful, we cannot create our own tribe alone. We are the anti-tribe; and that is precisely the challenge to living a quiet fulfilling life that makes sense in this world, at this time in our history.

    • Jana@FJ August 6, 2012 at 10:30 am #

      What a great comment, Zeb. I agree that one may leave the book thinking introverts can do anything, that, in fact, they are better than extroverts, even though Cain tries to make the point that neither one is necessarily better than the other. (I think when we live in a culture with such a heightened appreciation of extroversion, though, it is difficult to help introverts value themselves without veering into extremes in an effort to convince us.) As far as “succeeding,” I think it’s important for everyone to come up with their own definition of success, even extroverts. We can never succeed if we are fulfilling someone else’s paradigm. But the cultural messages are quite hard to shake! Thanks so much for participating in the book discussion!

  6. Joyce Hopkins August 7, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Why was this book chosen?

  7. Joyce Hopkins August 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    I feel as though my time was wasted reading this book to chapter 6 and skimming the remainder. It seems almost like one of those self help books that are so popular today.

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