The Sunday Salon: All’s Quiet

It has been quiet here, hasn’t it? Or maybe you haven’t even noticed.

Either way, it’s alright. Autumn is a time for drawing inward, for pulling all your inner resources together, storing energy and warmth for the cold hard days ahead.

I am a quiet person, best suited to being home with my family, my dogs, my books. I’m happy to let a certain few friends enter - in small groups only, please - but also just as happy when they’ve left and I’m on my own once again. Crowds of people with their noise and activity suck the life right out of me - I recharge my batteries when I’m alone and left to own devices.

A few weeks ago, I took a shortened, online version of the MBTI, and was a little surprised to find such a strong preference for introversion (89%). Oh, I’m not surprised I’m introverted - I’ve known that since the first day of kindergarten when I was terrified and overwhelmed by spending three hours in a room with 29 other five-year olds. But I was a little nonplussed by the high degree of preference this test indicated.

Then I started reading Quiet, by Susan Cain. It’s a fascinating study of introversion - how this personality characteristic develops, the way it’s viewed in different societies, and how it can be beneficial in life and in the workplace. It will come as no surprise to most of you that America is a society which values the extrovert - people with the kind of gregarious, up and at ‘em personalities we associate with leaders and winners. Introverts often are made to feel like the last ones picked for the team.

It’s been comforting to recognize myself in Cain’s descriptions. “Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while they wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions."

You could easily insert my name at the beginning of every one of those sentences.

Cain defines introversion not as shyness (the fear of social disapproval or humiliation) but as a “preference for environments that are not overstimulating.” Which helps me understand why it’s so tiring for me to be in crowded places like airports or concert halls or amusement parks.

But the subtitle of this book - The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking - is the key to what I’m finding most interesting.  I’ve internalized the impression that being introverted meant weakness, at least in terms of social and intellectual accomplishment. But Cain’s book debunks that theory. Not only does she talk about some very powerful and accomplished introverts - Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Marie Curie, and Warren Buffett to name a few- she also highlights numerous ways that the characteristics shared by many introverts can be extremely valuable assets in any setting. How deep thinking, focused attention, and quiet strength can make a huge difference in everything from social justice to rocket science.

Ghandi (another famous introvert!) once said, "In a gentle way you can shake the world."  I doubt if I’ll be doing any world shaking, but it’s good to know that I don’t have to apologize for being quiet anymore.

The Sunday