Where Do Introverts Fit in a Noisy World?

I’m a total introvert. My wife – in fact, the rest of my family – is not. I work most days in an office by myself in the corner of our house, carved out of a part of the old garage. I write, think, read and I have to say I’m pretty damn happy doing it most days.

In fact, I’m typing this by myself in that very office, with a cup of tea, no less. How much of a stereotype can a guy be?

For some people, it is hard to imagine that I’m a keep-to-myself kind of guy. After all, I’m a somewhat public figure, and I love speaking to large groups of people. But for some introverts, it’s not people in and of themselves that pose the most daunting challenge; it’s fighting for air in a muddled conversation exerting ourselves to create the necessary space we need. We’d rather just accede the territory and move on to quieter frontiers, thanks very much.

In her New York Times Bestseller, “QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain takes a thoughtful look at what, if any space we reserved, silent types can or should fill in a universe increasingly occupied by the din of white noise. Is anyone listening to anyone else? Is there even a point in adding to the conversation? Do we introverts have anything of value to contribute to a society that values self-promotion, bold claims and celebrity as virtues?

According to Cain, not only do we have something to offer; the world needs us more than it may realize.

Like social theorist and author Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain is adept at weaving together social inquiry with readable, relatable anecdotes and hard-nosed research. She tracks the trail of the alpha personality to see how it is that we came to a point where aggression and extroversion are assumed traits of any good leader. More than this, she considers what the effects of this may be on the culture, from alienating entire ethnic groups to stifling innovation.

Susan Cain, author of QUIET

But QUIET isn’t simply a manifesto in praise of the oft-marginalized introvert. Instead, Cain offers real-world examples of how both introverts and extrovert might communicate together better, all with the intent of cultivating a richer social, economic and corporate culture. She loves our more outspoken brothers and sisters. She just recognizes that they need us, as we need them.

Quiet is a valuable read both for those curious about the dynamics of human behavior and social interaction, as well as those seeking new ways to manage organizations more efficiently and effectively. Certainly, the silent bookworms of the world are not staging a coup; we’d rather read than rule the world. But we do have something to say, even if it’s tentative or halting in its delivery.

I suppose the only real concern I have is if Cain isn’t preaching to the choir to some degree with her important work. Yes, there is plenty for introverts to glean from the pages of QUIET, but the more outspoken and assertive among us certainly have more learning opportunities here. The question is: will they slow down and shut up long enough to read it?

Just kidding. Sort of.

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  • Well, I’d ask the question one of my friends asked: How do we know introverts/extroverts exist? It’s only a recent concept that we adopted (invented by Jung in the mid 19th century) And from what I’ve read, it’s debatable as to whether it’s formed by personality, circumstances, or biology. What do you think?

    • Like most personality traits, I expect it’s a mix of both. As for how we know who is who, generally the metric I use is whether you gain energy from being part of a group/crowd or whether it wears you out.

    • I don’t consider extroversion/introversion as a concept that was made up by someone; but rather something that is empirically observable.

      The ideas of extroversion and introversion where around long before Jung, as far back as Plato if not earlier.

      • Huh? That’s a bold claim. Where did you see that? (this might be helpful for making a case for it. However, Jung and Plato all invented their concepts via the same methods; introspection and viewing human patterns.)

        • In Plato’s Republic he speaks of four kinds of character, four temperaments: iconic (sanguine), pistic (melancholy), noetic (choleric) and dianoetic (phelgematic). Each of these temperaments played different roles in society.

          These four temperaments have been independently observed throughout some 2000 years of psychology and form the basis of the modern Jungian Myers Briggs personality profiles.

          • Truthfully, in Plato’s usage of these four principles (Though they were actually the Physician Galen’s ideas originally. But that’s irrelevant)
            Also, it’s worth noting that the four temperaments are completely different from the Introversion/extroversion concept. In fact, I might even be willing to make the argument that this could damage the argument, for it might mean people are inheriting a “wrong idea” over 2000 years, kind of like how we inherited a simple acceptance of slavery as a social norm.

            I’d be more impressed if a Chinese man, a European, a Muslim, and another nation all discovered these traits apart from one another. but most people might have just adopted Galen’s ideas and transferred them forward.

            In other words, history doesn’t entirely validate the existence of these ideas.

            However, I have found a little bit of biology that might support this, to a extremely limited extent.

          • By doubting introversion and extroversion, what do we gain?

            Rather, what problem do you have personally with these concepts?

            Also, Galen lived some 300 years after Plato.

          • Galen lived some 300 years after Plato.

            Concerning inheriting the wrong idea, and that history doesn’t validate these ideas, are you saying that modern psychology has had no contributions to the field? Such that in the last 2000 years nothing of value has been added to Galen’s ideas?

            Is modern psychology just a field made up of mindless puppets?

            Have we no means to test the theory of intro/extroversion? It’s all just Galen’s influence?

            Do you have a personal reason to doubt these ideas? I know that for myself, I have a personal reason, a bias, to believe them, as I consider myself an introvert.

          • Oops. Heh. My bad on my history.

            As to the comment about historical inheritance, I’m not saying historical evidence doesn’t have validity. Please don’t get that notion. But history can encourage really bad ideas, and some really good ones.

            And I’d also say that Introversion (I hope) can be tested scientifically. I just haven’t seen it proven yet. And so, I’m really careful how we validate it.

            I actually love the idea of introversion/extroversion. But as a student of truth, I’m trying to test everything, so I’m trying to keep the notion in my head that this idea that I used to swear was infallible just might be untrue. But I’m still studying it.

    • I think I see extroversion/introversion as I live life in pastoral ministry and in being married. My wife lives to be social, I’m social to live. I can do awkward personal counselling, I can read and write, I can do planning, and enjoy and be energized by it. The single most terrifying and exhausting thing I do each week is to have to socialize in the church lobby each week before and after the church service. A lof of it is definitely genetic as I can see in my own kids. My oldest is practically my clone, and my second child is an extroverted socializer. Same parents, same home, totally different personalities.
      I look forward to reading to book. I’ve found that silent wisdom is much needed in theological discussion especially and I’d love a little more insight into how to leverage my natural god-given personality.

      • But seeing it in yourself; is that evidence for it? Or are we simply speculating and taking the concept to describe behavior which may not be as naturally there as we want to think? When we do that, we assume that something which may or may not exist is there and present. I’m fearful of assuming such biases, lest I twist the facts to fit my interpretation.

        • It’s humanly impossible to be 100% objective; everyone has a bias.

          Towards rectifying this dilemma, multiple experiments should be undertaken by different groups of researchers, each trying to prove or disprove a point according to their own bias.

          With enough oversight by mostly objective governing bodies, theories should eventually lean toward the “truth” and away from the subjective bias.

          That all works until we enter the realm of Christianity, where the ideas presented by the best salesperson (aka, “pastor”) triumph; this is, in part what the book Quiet documents concerning American society in general since the founding of the Dale Carnegie Institute.

        • R Kahendi

          You know, it’s possible to make the same argument about almost everything. If we all did that all the time, when would it ever be alright to simply live?

      • Hi Ben, toward learning about natural God given personality types I recommend “Please Understand Me II” by David Keirsey.

        It gives a good understanding of why people do what they do and many times feel the way they feel; including material on marriage and parenting.

  • This blog post reminds me of a common thing Christians in America do.

    On one hand they take a few passages here and there and make up a host of “spiritual gifts” and create a cottage industry out of spiritual gifting personality tests and so called “love languages”; but on the other hand they look down on and even vilify secular theories about personality.

    A spiritual gifts test uses the mind to answer questions, and somehow arrives at a conclusion about a person’s spiritual state. But how can something such as “faith” be measured by a scan-tron question? I myself, when taking one of these tests scored low in the spiritual gift of faith.

    In my opinion, the premises of these tests are flawed; they are little more than gimped personality tests with Christianise flavor text.

    I think that the truth is, unfortunately, that if poor psychology comes from a prominent Christian leader Christians are likely to buy into it; and if good psychology comes from a secular theorist Christians are likely to deem it “fallen earthly wisdom.”

    There’s no objectivity; no thoughtfulness on different truth claims, just blind acceptance of one side and willful blind ignorance of the other.