There is a Place for Introverts

Susan Cain, although introverted, has placed herself at the helm of a revolution whose ‘stakeholders’ are often submerged in a solitude that is both comforting and energising – the Quiet Revolution.

Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again. —Anais Nin

While she introduces a perfect synopsis of the thinking in her 2012 TED Talk, The Power of Introverts, it is in the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, that she truly contextualises the evolution of society to the point where there is an over-emphasis on extroversion.

Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

The book delves into how introverts have a significant role to play in all facets of society and how this should be embraced as opposed to the blind drive to create more open plan spaces, constant collaboration and, as a result, implying that there is something wrong with being comfortable in solitude.

The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.

As a self-proclaimed introvert, I always grappled with how, when I withdrew from the noise for my peace of mind, it was labelled “anti-social”. I would eventually travel down destructive paths that enabled me to be more like “I should be” – for example, after consuming certain substances, I was more extroverted and forward. Part of my life’s journey has been in accepting who I am, entirely.

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

I have a child who is also introverted and, although it has taken me years to locate myself as an introvert, I found myself pushing him in the same way that extroverts have pushed me over the years. I didn’t want him to go through the pain that I went through but, in essence, by pushing him, I was contributing to it. After reading the book, I am getting better at allowing him the space to be who he is.

Our schools should teach children the skills to work with others—cooperative learning can be effective when practiced well and in moderation—but also the time and training they need to deliberately practice on their own. It’s also vital to recognize that many people—especially introverts like Steve Wozniak—need extra quiet and privacy in order to do their best work.

Cain also explores ways in which introverts can navigate the world, at times ‘being extroverted’ when needed to ensure that one can achieve the things you want to achieve, such as public speaking, in her case. There is also a difference between being shy and being introverted as well as levels on the scale of introversion and extroversion.

I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. A thoughtless word hardly ever escaped my tongue or pen. Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. We find so many people impatient to talk. All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.

I would also encourage extroverts to read this book to get a better understanding of the introverts in their life. Many a relationship has both and, sometimes, conflict stems from that, when it doesn’t have to. It is about balance and meeting each other at a point that is comfortable for both. Her Quiet Manifesto is also useful to read and the site has numerous articles on different aspects of introversion, such as For Extroverts: 15 Ways You Can Be An Even Better Parent To Your Introverted Kid, Introducing The Social Introvert and 3 Strategies For Surviving The First 5 Minutes Of Any Social Situation.

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