“Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.” – Susan Cain
In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Society That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown Publishers, 2012), Susan Cain writes a meticulously researched and well-argued plea for equality. Not for women or for minorities, but for introverts. In a society that values extroversion, she believes, we need to look closely at the value that introverts bring to the equation. That value, according to Cain, is vast. If invention is ninety nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration, then the introverts are responsible for the ninety nine percent, in essence. The introverts are largely the ones who work on their own, hashing it all out, putting it together and taking it apart again until it works. What they lack in flash and dazzle, they make up for in persistence. Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi: all examples introverts who avoided the bright lights in order to pursue their true interests and beliefs, and we all benefitted from the results.
The true beauty of this book lies in the permission it grants: Cain, an introvert herself, is resolute on the idea that introverts are much healthier and happier if they are allowed to remain introverts. Cain demonstrates that introversion is much more accepted in the east then the west, and reassures fellow introverts that it is not only alright to stay home and read on a Friday night, it is a right. It is necessary and productive and totally normal.
If you are not a closet (or overt) introvert, this book is just as valuable. Cain speaks directly to parents, teachers, bosses, and spouses of introverts. How do you best teach and parent introverts? How do you make sure that introverts are heard and involved in decision making? Cain makes a great argument for valuing introverts in the workplace, even suggesting that the recent economic market collapse in the U.S. could have been avoided if more “risk-averse” introverts had spoken up during board meetings. Cain urges us to find a balance between the extroverts and introverts in our society, and within ourselves.
Like Cain, I believe that true progress will come when people are comfortable with who they are, not pretending they are someone they are not. Recognizing who we are is a great first step, and the insights offered in Quiet are a valuable addition to that process. Respecting who we are is a lifelong practice. What a timely, necessary book.