America’s other, underestimated half: the introverts

Chris Banner

By A Contributor

We live in an age in which many different minority groups have struggled for and achieved some measure of recognition and power. Yet, an important, large minority group, amounting to one-third to one-half of our population is largely unrecognized, denigrated and generally kept down. Quite possibly you are one of them.

They are the introverts. Susan Cain tells about them in her “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

We already know a lot about extroverts because of their dominant position in our culture.

Cain’s purpose in writing this book is to show us the characteristics of introverts and extroverts while advocating for introverts.

She argues that we need to recognize them and to be sure a place for them exists in our daily lives and work.

Cain tells us that in the nineteenth century Americans had a culture of character where personal excellence, rectitude, citizenship, duty, work, golden deeds, honor, reputation, morals, manners and integrity, both in public and in private, were of great importance.

In the early twentieth century in response to the needs of our growing industrial base a culture of personality arose.

It was characterized by personal magnetism, attractiveness, dominance, forcefulness and energy.

By being fascinating, stunning and glowing Dale Carnegie — no relation to the industrialist Andrew Carnegie — beginning in 1913 with his first book.

“Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business,” was an early leader in the change. People with the right personality characteristics — we now call them extroverts — began to rise to the top.

Today the sort of people to whom he was appealing are in positions of leadership and authority.

At the same time persons who were quiet, shy, sensitive and serious who disliked conflict, multi-tasking, small talk and group activities, whether committee work or parties; who liked to work and solve problems on their own; who we now called introverts, began to loose public and self esteem.

The popular comic strip, “Dilbert,” illustrates these two personality types.

“Quiet” tells us beginning in the 1920s psychologists started to consider the origins and characteristics of these differences.

Basically they asked was it nature or nurture? How could you tell?

Today in addition to the traditional research methods, they use the fMRI to scan the brain and examine how it reacts to different stimuli.

Researchers have found that the brains of introverts and extroverts light up differently.

Geneticists have found differences in certain genes. Both of these give support to the nature argument.

Even so, when other researchers looked at people around the world they found different distributions of the two basic types.

In America, students of Asian descent who lived in Cupertino, Calif., think Silicone Valley, where they were surrounded by other Asians of the same ancestry living in a more heterogeneous settings were different.

The Silicone Valley people had a higher incidence of introversion than the others, which supports the nurture argument.

Regardless of their cultural origin it is an indisputable fact that introverts need their privacy and need to be alone more than the extroverts.

Consequently, they are not as comfortable and do not perform as well when they are involved in collaborative activity or group situations such as open offices — they do better in cubicles — and schools where desks are grouped together.

Cain says, “The truth is that many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kinds of instruction from extroverts.”

Collaborative learning can be a bad thing. She devotes a whole chapter to counseling parents on how to help their introverted children to survive or do well in a bad school or play situation.

The fact remains that in this country life is difficult for the introvert.

He or she must learn to survive and perhaps even prosper somehow; although prospering is not a major value of introverts.

“Quiet” tells of various coping strategies including not getting yourself in a bad situation in the first place.

It also teaches how to push yourself to your limit — acting extroverted — when really necessary, then getting out of the stressful situation and going to a quiet place to recover.

Books need catchy titles to attract buyers but the title should bear a relationship to the book’s content.

The subtitle of this book, “The Power of Introverts in a World That Cannot Stop Talking” is somewhat deceptive, for “Quiet” tells us much more about extroverts than that they cannot stop talking.

Cain spent more than six years researching and writing this book.

She did a lot of book and journal research and interviewed a lot of people.

She cites numerous case histories to illustrate her points and to make the book more interesting.

Susan Cain is a Harvard Law School graduate who was a successful Wall Street lawyer.

After a few years she realized that she was an introvert and would be happier by working by herself as a writer and counselor than by being in high-powered group situations.

Introverts solve problems and figure things out. Extroverts make things happen and get things done. Society needs both.

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