*This is a Friends Journal Book Club Installment. Feel free to comment even if you haven’t read the book!
Are you ever surprised when your perception of people is completely different from the way they see themselves? That there is, in fact, more to every person than we may at first assume?
In Chapter Nine of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, she talks about “self-monitors,” people who are able to “modify their behavior to the social demands of a situation” to the point that you may not know whether they have a more introverted or extroverted personality. Many introverts, apparently, have learned to fake extroversion.
The reason they are able to do this, typically, is because they are working toward some greater good. If an introvert has a “core personal project,” something she cares deeply about, she can push through her propensity for quiet and solitude and do what the situation demands of her.
As many of us know, that’s not always easy. Many people neglect their actual passions for something they assume is more acceptable to the larger culture. In order to avoid the negative emotions and consequences that come from pursuing what you don’t love, Cain insists that we do a little soul searching. First, think back to what you wanted to be when you grew up. There’s usually more wisdom in our childhood selves than we realize. Second, pay attention to the part of your job or schooling that you really like. If you’re always wandering off to work on a certain kind of project independently, you may be subconsciously trying to pursue that as a personal goal. And finally, figure out what makes you jealous. If you’re jealous of someone else for achieving a certain thing, that’s usually a clue that you’re not pursuing what matters most to you.
Pursuing what you’re passionate about is not only important in a career, though. In the last chapter of the book, Cain talks about the importance of parents and teachers nurturing their children to be happy and confident in who they already are, not pushing them to become someone they’re not. This is an all too important topic in this day and age, as we are constantly bombarded with news items about how to make our kids successful, happy and healthy. If you’re an extroverted (or introverted) parent with an introverted child, remember to honor her personality rather than push her to be something she is not. The way to have a more confident child, Cain says, “is to expose your child gradually to new situations and people” and be careful “to respect his limits, even when they seem extreme.” When it comes to schooling, teachers should not always force students to work in groups or speak in front of the class, but also let kids have the chance to work independently.
It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I realized the value of working independently. My English teacher assigned Hamlet when I still couldn’t make sense of Shakespeare’s language. Usually, we spent the period listening to different students awkwardly read the lines and left having no idea what was happening in the story. But one day, she decided to let us read the play quietly on our own. Suddenly I cracked the code of what Hamlet was saying to Gertrude, his mother. (Hint: It wasn’t very nice.) That small personal victory might not have happened that year unless I had been given time and space to read in class.
Overall, Susan Cain’s book is not just for and about introverts. It is about recognizing the common, unique, sometimes quirky and often sensitive traits in every individual. Whether a person talks a lot or a little, enjoys crowds or alone time with a book or computer, all people deserve respect, kindness and recognition for who they are rather than pressure to conform to who they are not. This is perhaps why Quiet is such a popular and enjoyable read for spiritual seekers: it implores us to see the value and beauty of everyone in our midst.
Questions for consideration:
What do you think is the best way to get kids in schools engaged?
Do parents of this generation focus too much on cultural notions of success and not enough on cultivating each child’s individual strengths?
Do you feel reading the book Quiet has helped change your perceptions of people and/or our culture? Has it deepened your faith in any way?
Are there any other final insights or comments you’d like to add to the discussion?
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Thanks for reading! Hopefully you’ll join us next month when we discuss The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen.
Read our interview with Susan Cain in the September issue. Don’t have it? Click here to get current or back issues of the journal.