Making Room for the Thoughtful Ones: A Review of Susan Cain's "Quiet"
Introverts, as Cain points out, have contributed amazing things to the world. We include Rosa Parks, Isaac Newton, Steven Spielberg, J. K. Rowling, Al Gore, Gandhi. (5-6) If we're given the chance to do what we do well—in the ways we do them well—we have so much to offer. Yet, Cain argues, in American life, many of the most important institutions are still designed for those "who enjoy group projects and high levels of stimulation." (6)
Quiet is a gift to the tribe because it offers copious research and accumulated experience that things can, and should, be different. So whether in business, education, religion, or any institutional setting, Cain's book suggests to us that we need—as a culture—to make a place for the different ways people work best in social settings, think best, and feel most comfortable.
As a teacher, maybe I need to balance the quick and sure responses of my extroverts with the more-nuanced and sometimes hard-coaxed answers of my introverts. As a business owner, perhaps you need to reevaluate the putting of people in competitive teams, or offer your introverts some solitude where they can think hard without interruption. As a priest or church leader, perhaps you need to retrain your congregation about how to make all feel welcome—or to re-train them to value the focus and creativity introverts bring to the community as well as the friendliness and outgoing nature of the extroverts.
I love Cain's conclusions, which affirm that we are all created with gifts no one else can offer, and challenge introverts to be most truly themselves:
The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers—of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity—to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply. (264)
Her book makes us think more deeply and offers, I hope, the possibility that the quiet strength of the introvert will someday be celebrated alongside the more vocal confidence of the outgoing.
For more conversation on the book Quiet—and to read an excerpt—visit the Patheos Book Club.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.