I am delighted that Susan Cain, author of Quiet has had the power, and has taken the time, to write this book which can give reassurance and practical support to so many of us introverts who have had to learn professionally and personally to develop skills to navigate this public North American culture of wall-to-wall conversation. For many of us the unremitting chatter of every arena in which we engage is exhausting and daunting, and Cain addresses that feeling, researches the root causes and effects of that chatter, and, best of all, gives hope for an introvert to find effective modes of leadership and service in the noisy world.
She deftly weaves her personal narrative, owning her own introversion, with the research she has done in a wide variety of fields. She gives a helpful distinction between “shyness…a fear of social disapproval or humiliation,” and “introversion is a preference for environments that are not over stimulating.” The book is rich in its resources for understanding the ethos for public leadership and performance in present day North America, and naming the extroverted style that is admired in many fields: law, government, business and education. For this review I was most interested in seeing what she had to say about religion. The one lengthy story she related about Church took place with a Presbyterian introvert, Adam McHugh, (also in the Patheos community), trying to worship and learn at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County. McHugh, a self-identified introvert, has gone on to write his own books and blog about the Church’s clamoring or responding to an extroverted style of worship, leadership and image. The wisdom that is offered in the analyses of Cain (and McHugh) I believe helps the reader understand yet another dimension of the conflict between worship styles of congregations, those that are communicative and those that are more contemplative.
Cain very helpfully offers practical strategies for those who are called to ministry in the public arena, (in the Church). She describes the strengths of introverts for leadership and suggests helpful strategies for those in leadership who need to preserve their own energy for the tasks to which they are called, for which there is a “call of conscience” to speak out for the good of all.
I was particularly pleased that she gave a chapter to cultural differences; her focus was Asian cultures in North America. In church and educational institutions, if extroversion is the norm, those from “soft power” cultures feel and are at a disadvantage. If the community of faith is to welcome all who live with us, we need to hear this cautionary and prophetic word. I would welcome more insights in to the extroversion/introversion continuum with other cultural groups to the conversation,
The most helpful principal of the entire book is found in Cain’s introduction where she expresses her hope that the reader will have a “new found sense of entitlement to be yourself.” Calvin tells us that the two kinds of knowledge that are essential for a Christian to have are a knowledge of God and a knowledge of one’s self, and that in those two bodies of knowledge, one finds that each will lead to the other. Cain’s lifting up and affirming both the presence and contribution of the introvert in human systems can be an aid to that knowledge for introverts, and illumination to extroverts in communities of faith. She has made a very valuable contribution to our lives together.
Elizabeth Nordquist blogs at patheos.com as “a Musing Amma.” She will be taking the next days until Ash Wednesday to be blog-Quiet herself.