The Hidden Power of Introverts

This month I was offered the opportunity to take part in Patheos’ book club. I am reviewing Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. It might initially seem like this book has little to do with the topics I regularly write about, but on further reflection I began to see some connections. And even beyond that, the book is simply fascinating.

Cain outlines the history of what she calls “the extrovert ideal” and seeks to show that the potential and gifts of introverts has been long ignored. She brings together studies, anecdotes from her experience teaching negotiating skills, and personal stories from attending motivational speaker Tony Robbins’ conferences and conducting interviews to create a fascinating and engrossing book.

Extroverts are outward-oriented; introverts are inward-oriented. Extroverts are the ones who are energized by contact with other people; introverts are energized by solitude. Cain’s basic thesis is that we in the United States have glorified extroversion while treating introversion as something to be overcome. But as Cain points out, introversion is not the same as shyness or being misanthropic. And, as Cain points out, introverts possess some important gifts.

Here is a fascinating excerpt from page 57:

Grant’s team divided 163 college students into competing teams charged with folding as many T-shirts as possible in ten minutes. Unbeknownst to the participants, each team included two actors. In some teams, the two actors acted passively, following the leaders’ instructions. In other teams, one of the actors said, “I wonder if there’s a more efficient way to do this.” The other actor replied that he had a friend from Japan who had a faster way to fold shirts. “It might take a minute or two to teach you,” the actor told the leader, “but do we want to try it?”

The results were striking. The introverted leaders were 20 percent more likely to follow the suggestion — and their teams had 24 percent better results than the teams of extroverted leaders. When the followers were not proactive, though — when they simply did as the leader instructed without suggesting their own shirt-folding methods — the teams led by extroverts outperformed those led by introverts by 22 percent.

Why did these leaders’ effectiveness turn on whether their employers were passive or proactive? Grant says it makes sense that introverts were uniquely good at leading initiative takers. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited from the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words. In the T-shirt-folding study, the team members reported perceiving the introverted leaders as more open and receptive to their ideas, which motivated them to work harder and to fold more shirts.

Extroverts, on the other hand, can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way an allowing workers to lapse into passivity. “Often the leaders end up doing a lot of the talking,” says Francesca Gino, “and not listening to any of the ideas that the followers are trying to provide.” But with their natural ability to inspire, extroverted leaders are better at getting results from more passive workers.

Cain’s purpose is not to argue that introverts are better than extroverts, but rather that our culture overvalues extroverts at the expense of introverts.

In one especially fascinating section, Cain looks at evangelicalism, Rick Warren, and Saddleback Church. She does so through an interview with Adam McHugh, a local evangelical pastor who is “an avowed introvert.”

“The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion,” McHugh explained. “The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’d like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.’”

From outside the evangelical community, this seems an astonishing confession. Since when is solitude one of the Seven Deadly Sins? But to a fellow evangelical, HcHugh’s sense of spiritual failure would make perfect sense. …

Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme, McHugh is telling us. If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection with the divine; it must be displayed publicly. Is it any wonder that introverts like Pastor McHugh start to question their own hearts?

Cain details her experience visiting Saddleback, and what she calls the “culture of personality.” She even compares the service to what she saw visiting Tony Robbins’ “Unleash the Power Within” seminars and discusses what she calls “the myth of charismatic leadership.” Interestingly, the very extroverted nature of evangelicalism helps explain some of the salvation anxiety I discussed yesterday. Also, given the role charismatic authoritarian leadership so often plays in religion, I think a greater appreciation of the potential downsides of extroversion and upsides of introversion can only be positive.

This whole extrovert/introvert discussion is also interesting when considered in light of conversations within the atheist blogosphere regarding how to approach dialogue with the religious – and especially whether to use a “harsher” or “gentler” approach in doing so. There are benefits to charismatic leadership’s ability to inspire, but there are also limitations. Introverts hold their own power, a power grounded in the ability to listen to others and influence and lead from behind. I don’t know exactly where all that leaves us, but I find the discussion fascinating and, I think, potentially productive.

Cain also has a chapter on the cultural differences in the value placed on extroversion and introversion, and one on raising introverted children. Her conclusion is that we need to not undervalue introverts and what they have to offer. I highly recommend Cain’s book, which is a goldmine of fascinating insights.

I am an introvert. This might surprise some of those who know me, because I often find myself putting on a mask and acting the part of an extrovert – something Cain also discusses. But Cain’s book has given me a new appreciation for the way being an introvert guides both how I approach others and how I approach issues.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Christine

    Speaking as an extrovert who finds socializing to be draining (yes, I’ve had a professional walk me through MB, it’s because of my Asperger’s, as near as we can tell), I am very glad that I was raised in a church with a contemplative tradition. Although I suspect that conventional extroverts probably don’t do as well there.

  • Hannah M

    Reading Adam McHugh’s book “Introverts in the Church” radically changed how I thought about my introversion and my spiritual life. I grew up in an evangelical church and spent my high school years especially stretching myself to the limit, socially, in an effort to be the good, social, outgoing, extroverted Christian I was supposed to be. My senior year I finally came to terms with the fact that I was pathetically bad at it, and I gave up, figuring I was just going to be stuck as a terrible person and a terrible Christian. Learning about introversion via Adam McHugh, Laurie Helgoe, Susan Cain and other introvert writers gave me so much more confidence in myself, and I ended up piecing together a faith and a Christianity that embraced that side of myself rather than rejecting it.

  • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages! It’s been constantly checked out of the library (unsurprisingly) and I haven’t been able to get my hands on it. I did watch Susan Cain’s Ted Talk and I was especially impressed by the distinction she made between character and personality, and how we’ve come to value the latter above the former.

    • AnyBeth

      Can you not request the book? Afaik, all the libraries I’ve patronized have had a system where one could request an item that is in its system. The library would get in touch with the requesting patron as soon as the item became available, holding it for them for a short time. (Kind of like inter-library loan that way, but within a single system and always free.) Of course, this also meant that popular items tend to develop a lengthy waiting list. Still, I recommend looking into the possibility.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Oh sure, I do that all the time. I keep meaning to, I just haven’t done it yet. I do genuinely want to read it though!

  • Latebloomer

    Love that book!! The most intriguing part, in my opinion, was the discussion of how a certain type of introvert (called “high-reactive”) are more impacted by their childhood experiences, both good and bad. It really illuminated a lot of things for me about my own childhood and why I entered adulthood almost completely destroyed. I wrote about it here:

  • Ahab

    As an introvert who chafes at the behavior of certain extroverts, I’m intrigued by this book. Thanks for the review.

  • extrovert

    As an extrovert who can’t stop talking, I’ve been wondering if I should read that book.

    No, seriously, do you think its interesting for everyone, or just for people who are introverted or are raising introverted children?

    • Libby Anne

      Given that, as Cain points out, one in three people in the U.S. are introverts, and that you therefore know and interact with introverts on a daily basis, the answer to your question is absolutely. As a perk, it’s very well written and engaging.

      • extrovert

        All right, I’ve requested it from the library. I am afraid it will just make me feel bad about my talkativeness though.

        Anyway, I think I’m a bit confused about the definitions, so I’m not sure if its totally accurate to say I’m an extrovert. I’m very talkative and I like interacting with people that I know and like, or in situations where I’m comfortable like doing a presentation that I’m confident in. But, I hate being in social situations with people I don’t know very well and I find it exhausting to deal with things like parties unless I already know most people there. I also really like doing things like reading alone for hours. I guess I’m just not a very adventerous extrovert.

        (This comment was rejected as posting too quickly. Its been at least 10 minutes and I’m replying to your response. Is that really the right filter level to keep away spam bots? I guess I’ll leave this tab open and try again in half an hour but that doesn’t seem conducive to conversation.)

  • Hilary

    I LOVED that book! I’m a Myers Briggs INTJ – really, that fits me to a T – and I’ve had some rather horrific melt downs when pushed for too long with too many people and too much noise.

    Libby, I knew were supper awsome for some reason!


    • Ahab

      I can relate to the horrific meltdown part. A few years ago, I traveled to a conference in a car with three very noisy, very extroverted colleagues who felt the need to fill every single moment with chatter. I almost had a meltdown after HOURS of this torture.

      • Hilary

        Oh honey, fellow carbon-based life form on line, I feel your pain.

  • Kacy

    Having grown up in an Evangelical church, I always thought extroversion was the ideal and it was something I constantly worked to achieve, sometimes in socially awkward and embarrassing ways. I wasn’t even able to recognize my own introverted tendencies and appreciate them until my adulthood. I’ve now come to recognize that much of the suffering I imposed upon myself as a Christian, came from tendencies within my personality (introversion + people please + Myers-Briggs Judging). Unlike some atheists, I don’t view religion as toxic for ALL people, but for certain personality types, even moderate religion can cause damage. Introverted Evangelicals are in a difficult position. I’ve also noticed that a lot of atheists I’ve met are introverts, who came to their conclusions after a lot of reading and personal reflection. I compare this to the extroverted Evangelicals in the church where I grew up, where many Christians couldn’t explain their theological vantage point beyond basic bumper-sticker expressions. I wonder if a lot of extroverts are attracted to churches simply for the constant social interaction, something introverts feel less inclined to need on a regular basis.

  • jwall915

    Sometimes I wonder if my experience is unique or not: I am an extrovert but was socialized, or “molded” if you will, by my parents to be an introvert. Thus, most of my life, I’ve been labeled and thought of as such. But I’m truly an extrovert. I’m energized by being around others and I can talk all day long. But I think I was forced toward being introverted by my parents because they were fungelicals. They valued meek, obedient children; they valued submissive women; and they didn’t want me having a lot of friends because they were terrified of me succumbing to “peer pressure.” So the easiest thing for them was to just keep telling me to be quiet. Every time I tried to step into a leadership role, however informal, they would tell me I was being fake. Whenever I was being loud or the center of attention, again, it was me trying to be someone else, and of course unlady-like. I started to feel like every time I was being myself, they would tell me I was being unlady-like. They told me over and over I was a nerd and would never be part of the “popular crowd”.
    I’m still trying to figure out what being an extrovert means for me. I’m still dealing with the strange looks and strained friendships that are resulting from people who’ve known me a long time, people who are accustomed to me being a quiet wallflower and are startled and upset by me talking a lot and making friends quickly and easily.
    I know the norm is that introverted children are pushed to be extroverts. But my experience was the opposite. Does anyone else have an experience similar to mine?

    • luckyducky

      My husband was raised by a very introverted father who made substantial efforts to isolate the family. Three of the 4 kids developed some degree of social anxiety and would have identified as introverts in their late teens and early 20s because of how difficult being outside of pretty prescribed social settings was for them — to the point of throwing up when in new situations. Two of the three outgrew the anxiety and discovered they are actually pretty extroverted people. The third, I am not sure how much she has held onto the anxiety and structured her life accordingly and how much she is just really introverted (I’ve known her for 18 years but still don’t “know” her). I don’t know how the 4th ended up being immune to all of it — I suspect the parents were just worn out (4 kids in 4 years) and the “world is a scary, scary place” programming was less rigorously applied (he got to do things the other kids didn’t) combined with a particularly strong inclination to find it otherwise.

      My husband is one of those and married a fairly introverted person who had (comparatively) more experience and more comfort (I am moderately introverted, not shy, not antisocial) with socializing. It was kind of a strange transition for us to make where I was his ambassador while he outgrew the anxiety to now where he is a small business person out wining and dining and dragging me out on occasion. And this is in a profession dominated by men lacking social skills — he could have easily picked a path that was limited to cubicle work.

      At one job, the department head insisted that everyone be trained to run public meetings so they did Toastmasters. If I remember correctly, my husband really appreciated it because it filled in some of the gaps in his skills repertoire that were a source of his anxiety.

  • J-Rex

    The most frustrating thing about being an introvert is being automatically written off as shy and afraid of the world. I feel perfectly comfortable talking to people and when it’s a conversation I enjoy, I can talk forever. But there are plenty of times I just choose not to talk because I’m thinking about other things, and people hold that against me.

    Even if someone is shy and is scared to talk to people, it’s really unfortunate how they get treated. They get made fun of for it and how is that going to help anyone? Even being called “shy” always feels like the worst insult in the world to me. My middle school had the “Most ___” section in the yearbook and had a “Most shy” category that was basically given to the two people with the least friends. When people think you’re shy, they talk to you out of pity and pretend your just this cute little thing. “Wow, I *love* your outfit! You look *so* pretty today!” And they feel like they’ve done their good deed for the day instead of just talking to you like a normal person and having a normal conversation.

    • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

      Yep. All of it.

    • Carys Birch

      Oh god yes, this. Just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I’m scared of you. Admittedly, I’m a lot more comfortable taking people a few at a time, and not in a massive group. But really, introversion = recharge alone. That’s it!

      INTP. I spend a lot of time in my head.

      • Christine

        As a fellow INTP, I can relate to the massive group problem. But in the SCA, I love to teach, and I’ve been told I’m good at it. I think this is because I’m dealing with a small group, who are interested in what I have to say… and i’m imparting my world view, which is something NTs love to do.

      • Carys Birch

        I’m not much of a teacher, but I love to sit down with a few people and really tear an idea to shreds. :) Some of the same motivation, I think.

      • Joy

        As someone who is both introverted AND is somewhat shy (i.e. I find it awkward to talk to people until I reach a certain comfort level with them), it’s a bad combination, trust me. We do a lot of our socializing online, people like me.

      • Christine

        NTs are the only personality sub-group with their own collective noun – “an argument.” :)

    • ako

      This is hilarious, because my father is both a textbook introvert (social interaction runs his batteries down, and he definitely hits a “No, I need to go recharge” point), and a very confident, successful, socially adept person with a talent for networking. People who either don’t know him well, or misunderstand the word “introvert” tend to peg him as extroverted, but when people match the definition to his behavior when he’s not “oh”, they’re all “Now I see!”

  • Erika

    The author also has a TED talk which hits many of the high lights of the book:

  • Noelle

    I’ve heard it before, while attempting to seek solitude. Am I sick? Am I angry? Am I lonely? Am I depressed? Am I tired? Am I embarrassed? Am I shy? Am I afraid?


    Dear extrovert, you are draining the lifeblood outa me. Now leave me alone for while to clear my thoughts. Left alone, I am recharged and happy. I can sort though messy confusing tangles and tangents and make better connections. I can see what I missed before. And I’ll share it with you when I return, if you like. If you don’t shut up, I will keep it to myself.

    If I can’t have alone time, I get frazzled and irritable and snippy and burnt out and forgetful and make mistakes.

    I’m paid well for my skill of listening and quietly working out connections. I enjoy using it to solve problems and help others. My introversion is definitely better valued now as an adult than it was when I was a child, but not any better understood.

    It doesn’t surprise me that there are so many introverts in the blogosphere. We can take all the time in the world to ponder and respond. And it’s so quiet.

    • Christine

      And stop telling me to SMILE! all the #%*&!!!!!!!!! time!

      • Hilary

        Like! When I smile, you KNOW I’m not faking it because I DON”T smile on command when I’m not happy.

      • Noelle

        Agreed. Shut up about the freakin smile. I will smile when I want to smile. Me forcing my facial muscles to contort into a smile-like grimace does not mean I am instantly engaged and overjoyed with you.

      • Ahab

        AMEN CHRISTINE! I’ve had people telling me to smile for as long as I remember. When I started asking them, “Why?”, they had trouble answering — I don’t think even THEY know why they’re “supposed” to smile.

  • Azura

    I absolutely loved that book. I’ve come to really value my introversion and be able to communicate why I’m “socialled” out to people. I find that I absolutely love to talk and be with people, but just in small, familiar groups talking about deeper subjects. I just find I can’t focus on too many people or on a boring light topic. It was a really eye opening thing to read :)

  • Hilary

    One trick I’ve learned when dealing with family get togethers and other social requirements is to bring my crocheting with me. There’s something magical about having ‘something in my hands’ that makes it seem less like I’m bored to tears and more like I’m doing something. And it does give me something private and non-interactive to focus on.

    The worst thing? Being in a bar or resturant with multiple TVs around me. With too much visual and audible stimulation that I can’t block out, I shut down hard. I’ve had to sit and eat with my eyes closed a few times because I just can’t stand haveing multiple screens around me. Too much noise, too many flickering lights. I HATE having too much noise around me!! Even music I like, I like at a proper volume. I don’t like being overstimulated, which goes over *so well* with this culture, and what people expect of young-ish 30′s adults. As a kid I hated being overstimulated and I couldn’t fake being social for love or money. Oh, that was fun for camp councilors and at school.

    Get me on a topic I’m interested in and good luck getting me to shut up. Boring social talk? Yawn. Sports bars and watching football? I’m rather go to the dentist. Go to a sports game live? **shudders in horror** I’d rather have a root canal. At least then I get some painkilling drugs, and it would be over faster, and I don’t have to pretend to care or enjoy it.


    • Ismenia

      I often get headaches if there’s too many conflicting sounds. It’s hard to make people understand that it really does cause a problem. I also struggle to hear when there is too much background noise. I’ve had a hearing test and I’m definitely not deaf. I just can’t block out the sounds.

      I can handle parties and so forth but if the music’s loud I have to really focus to have a conversation, which is very draining.

    • Jayn

      The TVs don’t really bother me (they can actually kind of help once the noise gets too bad–I still can’t socialise but at least they’re something I can focus on) but I really have a hard time understanding the appeal of being in a room full of other people, especially strangers. Too many competing sounds, and I have a little difficulty making out speech to begin with. Eventually I lose my ability to focus on any conversation I’m not immediately participating in.

      I can’t quite figure out if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. I have figured out that I’m both shy and autistic (or maybe I’m shy because I’m autistic), so hello boatloads of social anxiety. And when scenarios that other people consider ‘social’ I consider ‘oppressive’, no wonder my social life sucks.

  • Ismenia

    Maybe I should read it.

    As a child I was pressured to be an extrovert. My Dad would call me anti-social if I wanted to read or play computer games by myself. I would also get accused of being “miserable”, which in this case is intended as an insult. He also encouraged my extroverted sister to do the same.

    Once when I mentioned that during break at school I often read my Nintendo magazines he started going on at me for being antisocial. I couldn’t see, why he thought it mattered. No-one at school did. I regularly had friends come round so it wasn’t as though he thought I spent all my time alone.

    I found family Christmas very stressful this year. Too many days staying in a house full of people. Bad weather, meaning we were confined. I hate not having personal space. I wish I hadn’t been brought up to see this as deviant. Now my academic ability is my greatest skill and I didn’t get that from running around making loads of noise.

    • Hilary

      Read it – it sounds like you could use hearing that you are perfectly normal, and there is nothing wrong or devient about your – our – desire for solitude and a calm environment. Part of the book goes over the history of why USA is so extroverted, why there is so much of a cultural focus on being extraverted and hyper social. It’s fascinating to see how cultural this issue is, as well as cross cultural. The E/I spectrum measureably exists in all cultures, but different parts of the world value one end of the spectrum or the other.

      She even goes over clinical research including brain scans and neurochemistry that we really do process information differently, like at a biological level. Our brains really do respond differently to stimulation, we’re not just being whinny, over-sensitive, controlling, or anti-social. It’s almost impossible to fake it when your neurons are going “Akh!! to much info – overload, overload! – need calm space to process before total system failure!”

      And I hate the phrase ‘anti-social’ I can socialize for hours with a friend or two about stuff that is interesting and important. I have been known to drive half a state out of my way to help a friend. But fashion, romance and sports doesn’t qualify as interesting, and in larger groups whats the point, I’ll never get a word in edgewise anyway. And cats – they’re mammals, right, doesn’t that count for socializing?


      • Eamon Knight

        And cats – they’re mammals, right, doesn’t that count for socializing?
        What, there are people who think it doesn’t? ;-) Gimme a good book, a comfy chair, (optionally) a beverage, a cat on my lap, and I consider myself in the best of company.

      • Ismenia

        I’m actually in the UK but the pressure still exists here. My only serious problem has been with members of my family, though. I get the impression it’s more intense in the USA.

        When I used to go to football (ie soccer) with my Dad they always used to read a notice that antisocial behaviour would not be tolerated. I realised that they weren’t saying that people who sit quietly and read the programme during half-time would be thrown out. I was pleased to discover that actually antisocial did not mean the same thing as unsociable (although to be fair my dictionary lists both definitions).

        I imagine that most antisocial (in the sense of behaving in an abusive manner) behaviour is actually committed by extroverts, at least in public.

      • Ismenia

        Reading this post and commenting on the thread have really made me think about my experience. I thought about the way my Dad would hassle me for displaying introverted qualities. I discussed this with my Mum and she said, “It was because you were different.”

        I’ve ordered a copy of the book.

  • Grikmeer

    I feel like I’m an introverted extrovert, or possibly an extroverted introvert. I backflip between the two situations, but I think I probably tend more to the introverted end of the spectrum…

    • luckyducky

      I am an introvert but that doesn’t mean I don’t like people, am dour, or never say anything. I just prefer to interact with a few people at a time and preferably people I know well.

      I work by myself most of the time but have bi-monthly meetings with 3-4 other people. I prepare for the meetings and am generally energetic and talkative (it is about ideas!). I was really surprised when 2 of my co-workers id’ed me as an extrovert because of how I am at these meetings! They both know how much I dislike the interview portion of my job–4 times per year, I have to go out in the field and interview a handful of people (most of them are repeats and all of them are perfectly pleasant people and willing participants). I think if I were actually an extrovert, I would be rather miserable with the situation but it suits me well.

    • ako

      According to tests, I’m close to mid-range (mildly extroverted), with more introvert-heavy interests (I love to read, for instance, and I hate dancing), and it can make a lot of the introvert/extrovert stuff confusing, because there’s a lot of “But…both those things!” I know I can get a bit overwhelmed when visiting some of my heavily-extroverted relatives (who think that twelve-fourteen hours a day isn’t too much socialization), but I also get squirrly and stuck and miserable when I don’t get enough social interaction, and I tend to gravitate towards enjoying things like kicking ideas around and talking things out. (There have been so many situations at work where weeks of shooting emails back and forth in separate offices accomplished nothing, but ten minutes into a meeting, things were sorted out.)

      So there’s a lot of variation, and it’s far more of a spectrum than a binary.

  • Sophie

    I’m one of four children and we’re split down the middle when it comes to being introverts/extroverts. Interestingly it’s the eldest and the youngest that are the extroverts and me and my middle brother that are the introverts. That fits with what I’ve read regarding sibling roles and dynamics. My elder and youngest brother are so outgoing, really sociable, always have to be doing something preferably within a group. Whereas us other two are so much happier being at home and doing something on our own. I was always really shy on top of that and it wasn’t until I went back to university as a mature student that I stopped being so. It was the realisation that I wanted to get the best out of my education and that meant raising my hand in class, joining in discussions and being able to work well in groups. I still get so nervous that I shake when I have to present to a large group of people but otherwise I got very comfortable speaking up in class. My middle brother is having problems with our mum at the moment because she seems to think there’s wrong with not wanting to be the centre of attention 24/7/365. She is the most extroverted extrovert I’ve ever met.

  • Liberated Liberal

    I can’t wait to read this! I’d heard about it before but forgot about it.

    I’m an extreme introvert – except that I have only just realized that I am energized by having people *around* me while not interacting with them. I’m not sure that makes sense. I am finding social interaction more and more draining as time goes on but am also realizing that being home alone most of the time doesn’t do good things for me, either.

    • Hilary

      That makes a lot of sense. Another misconception about introvers is that we enjoy being alone so much we can’t get lonely. Bullshit. We can get lonely, only that loneliness takes a different form then an extroverts, and most of us have such a high tolerence for being lonely that it can get pretty far along before we realize what it is, or that our loneliness is getting to toxic levels. I mean, given the choice between being lonely or over stimulated I’d often choose being a little lonely, and I’m used to it enough at work and from school. But we still get lonely, online connections can only go so far and sometimes a focused, meaningful, purposeful connection with another human being face to face is important to our mental health.

      Libraries and cafes are the best for this – just hanging around, people around you but not bothering you, and something good to read with a nice beverage. Heck, I wouldn’t mind sitting next to you, with a soy mocha and a good book, just reading side by side until either one felt motivated to mention something. You don’t by any chance live in Minnesota, do you?


      That’s part of why I like going to temple. It’s a schedualed something that gets me out of my home, that’s not work, family, or trying to arrange time with friends.

      • Hilary

        Oh crap, that last sentence was supposed to be part of the reply but I changed my mind and forgot to edit it out. But since it’s up, to finish the thought, my temple is a place I can go and just be with people without getting too overwhelmed. I can sit in the back during services, pray or not, recite the prayers or not, although I do stand and sit with the rest of the congregation because it’s rude not to, and just quietly be in the back row. If I want to go to the oneg (desert buffet and chat time after services) I can either sit quietly with a few brownies and tea, or find one or two people to talk to. The best thing is sitting in the library during Sunday School, listening to the librarian read to the kids while I look at something interesting in a comfy chair.

        This will probably count as herasy on this blog, but I like going to torah study. Since I’ve never had to try and twist it into anything innerant, and no dogma to see it as the perfect word of God (TM) it’s fascinating to study. Its a chance to join a focused conversation with intellegent people who are all interested in the same thing, well moderated by rabbis who easily allow for disagreements without letting the conversation get too polarized or out of hand. It probably helps that with 3 out of 4 clergy, (1 of 2 rabbis, and 2 cantors) also being women most of the misongyny of the torah has it’s teeth pulled, as far as applying it to our real lives.

        I like picking it apart historically, trying to learn and understand what was going on at the time different parts where written, what social or spiritual needs did different passages fulfill for the first audience that recieved it. What events where happening when these stories and laws were first being developed? When they were written down? What politcal situations would influence how these different text were created and codified? How have they been interpreted through the ages, how have different generations of Jews used and lived with this text across millenia and contenents? How have they used the torah to survive almost 2 millenia as a vastly outnumbered and often persecuted minority culture in the great cultures of European Christiandom and Islamic nations?

        And finally how do I live with the torah, liberal feminist modern patrilinial diaspora Reform Jew that I am? What can I learn, what can I make meaningful to my own life, and what do I flat out regect with no apologies?

        Sorry for the digression, but you know, us introverts don’t have much to say until you hit the right button, then we can’t shut up about what we’re interested in. :-)

  • Alan

    I recognize that this author is not making a case for introverts over extroverts but wonder when it will be when we stop attributing values of “good” or “bad” – “right” or “wrong” when we speak of personality differences. We are who we are in part because God made us this way and in part by the experiences which have shaped our lives. I have discovered the key is in accepting people for who they are and finding value and meaning in whatever personality type they fall under. I believe the important task is to learn what each of the personality types bring to the table in terms of attributes and strengths and how do we learn to leverage one another’s strengths and attributes to accomplish the most good.

  • Scotty Greene

    Extrovert(mostly) here. Book looks excellent as was the review. Because of heavy study load at seminary the review will probably have to serve as my exposure to the book. Putting aside the “authoritarian charismatic” paradigm summation in leadership generally and specifically in Evangelical churches, it is apparent that one of the results of the book and subsequent review is to divide us all up, label us and get us talking about our differences and what we can learn from the other after resentments are aired. Always “the other”. All good. What strikes me is the book (certainly the review) appears to fall into the “categorization trap” that reflects a weakness we all have in common. Am I either an extrovert or introvert? No gray area. no blend, no “bi”? Would national Meyer Briggs data show a neat demographic either/or split? Or, is reality more like my everyday experience where I see and interact with colleagues having different levels of both traits ?

    • Andrea

      Meyers Briggs measures all the personality traits on a continuum, not “either/or” “black/white” binaries. It’s definitely possible to fall somewhere in between.

      I think the reason why we talk about introverts/extroverts “as if” it were a binary thing might be partly because many of us parse certain concepts more easily as a binary (at least initially) but also because it’s easier to recognize (and analyze and talk about) the differences between two people at opposite ends of a continuum than it is to pick up on the difference between people who are nearer to each other on the continuum. There are also far more implications for how people at opposite ends of a continuum are likely to judge each other, interact with each other, treat each other, understand each other, etc.

      But just because conversations around the idea of extrovertism/introvertism may resort to binary descriptions for convenience, or to better illuminate the differences between one end of the continuum from the other, doesn’t mean that these actually express themselves in a binary fashion in real life. There’s plenty of gray, plenty of blend, plenty of “bi” (or “ambiverts” etc., no neat split.

      Me, I happen to be a relatively extreme introvert. And I’ve known people who I think can be easily classified as being more toward one end of the continuum or the other. But there are still plenty of people around who fall somewhere in the middle.

      • Christine

        You also get people like me. I’m fairly extroverted. I also find being around people stressful, and have a lot of other strong “introvert” indicators (we thought I was an introvert for several years). But I also have Asperger’s, which affects stuff. It was only when I went through the MB evaluation again with my counselor after my diagnosis that we realised I was an extrovert who presents oddly.

  • dave wainscott

    Thanks for the excellent post. I linked you below,
    I am one pastor who says we need more atheists like you. Thanks