Quiet - Susan Cain
A FaceBook pal, the Berlin based journalist Kate Ferguson, put me on to this. Frankly, thank goodness she did, and here's why. For as long as I can remember I've dreaded large social gatherings and, if I do work up the courage to go along, feel shattered for days afterwards. Open plan offices too are my idea of hell. So much so that I think I may have ended up working in Sales at one time so as not to have sit in an office with a bunch of other people. In those days my colleagues would joke that I had a trapdoor under my desk. Blink and I was gone. True as well that I used to grab a sandwich and eat it alone in my car in the underground car park where I worked. We had a fantastic canteen but I just had to get away. Be in my own space.
It's simple really, I need solitude and realise, after reading 'Quiet', that I'm not alone. Far from it. In fact around a third of the population feel as I do. But that's not to say I hate people. Quite the opposite. I love chatting with friends and family over dinner, coffee or drinks. Best of all for me are lengthy one-on-one chats with a close pal, or my wife and kids. Combine this with walking and food, and/or throw in a decent bottle of wine and I'm in heaven. So I don't dislike people at all. However the reality is that I find most so-called social gatherings deeply antisocial. The noise, the fragmented conversations, the rowdiness all overload my senses. For a long time I reckoned I was just odd and tried to cover up, usually by drinking way too much. What was wrong with me? Why did I feel the need to sneak home early? Why was I miserable inside when everyone else seemed to he having such a great time? Most seem to genuinely enjoy what I've just described after all. And there's nothing wrong with that. Best of luck to them. It just isn't for me. Actually it isn't me full-stop. And now I know there are tens of millions out there who feel just as I do.
According to Susan Cain it's not just parties that present a problem. For a myriad complex and convoluted reasons the extrovert personality has become seen as the ideal in Western Society. Think about it, more and more offices are open 'Google HQ' type spaces. Kids are browbeaten into playing team sports at a tender age, made to feel like weirdos if they don't engage on the football or hockey pitch. These days too in all likelihood one of the first questions you'll be asked in a job interview is 'are you a team player?' I'd stake a fair bet that if you answered 'No' you wouldn't get the job. So what are the rest of us supposed to do - those who enjoy their own company, who work best alone, who love taking long walks, love reading, love thinking, love writing, love watching box-sets back to back etc. etc.? There's another huge issue at play too, because being an introvert does not necessarily entail being socially awkward and shy. To use a personal example I think if those who know me well were asked to describe my personality they'd probably say I'm a bit loud, fairly gregarious and have a daft over-the-top sense of humour. And I guess they're right. My voice, and laugh, can probably be heard above the ozone layer. But I love reading, doing crosswords, writing and studying amongst many other solitary pursuits.
So, we're in a bit of a dilemma. And it's all the more bizarre when you consider that the best thinking is done alone. Steve Jobbs of Apple was an introvert. Bill Gates of Microsoft is an introvert. Einstein was an introvert. I could go on and on here. The point is though that without time alone, time to think, time to contemplate, we'd have little or no 'eureka moments.' Part of what I do as a Feature Writer is interview entrepreneurs across the globe. I'd hazard a guess that pretty much all their respective business ideas came about through quiet contemplation and consideration. In short humanity needs introverts. How come then that such a stigma has become attached to it?
After reading this book, which I believe to be a genuinely important work, I think the term introvert is partly to blame. It conjures up negative images. On the other hand if somebody were termed a thinker, an artist, a writer or a philosopher that's pretty positive to say the least. Susan Cain identifies, with the help of MRI scanner research, that there is strong scientific evidence to suggest that we introverts are more sensorily sensitive than our more outgoing crowd-loving counterparts. This is fascinating stuff. To put it plainly we simply overload at parties. It's all too much - the snippets of ever louder conversations, people saying Hi, getting in our personal space and, worst of all, the dreaded 'organised fun' causes a fight or flight reaction. What extroverts consider fun can be our idea of hell.
If any of this sounds familiar I urge you to read 'Quiet'. If any of this sounds totally unfamiliar I urge to read 'Quiet' as you'll gain massive insight into how 1 in 3 of us are feeling. Who knows, you may even be married to an introvert and not realise it. You may be an introvert and not realise it. Susan Cain's message is compelling, the evidence strong and well-researched. All in all 'Quiet' is a fascinating piece of work and clearly a labour of love. I'd go as far as to say, that for me, it's life-changing.
For more about the Quiet Revolution, Susan's work and to find out if you're an Introvert or Extrovert click below:
So many books - so little time. Oddly enough here I'll be posting about books. Feel free to agree, disagree but hopefully not remain ambivalent.