Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
“You know, in school, people thought you were a snob because you didn’t speak to anyone. And now that I know you, I realise you are nothing like a snob all!”
This statement is from a conversation that happened 10 years ago between me and a friend about a time that's possibly 15-20 years old.
Getting acquainted with my introversion
Ten years ago, the word ‘snob’ hadn’t forged its way into my lexicon. I recall very vividly opening up the Oxford Dictionary, leafing through ‘S’ until I made it to ‘Sn’ and dragged my fingers all along the print until I could stop it at ‘snob’.
And it read: A person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior and despises those with inferior tastes
Okay, I may have taken the literal meaning a little too personally but I had instantly understood the underlying significance. This wouldn't be the last time I would hear something to that effect though.
BUT I was not a snob.
Yes, I was selective about people (no, not because I considered someone inferior to me. What would that even be based on?) and the topics I engaged in (because I knew so little). That being said, I never have nor ever will be able to always contribute to a conversation - just to fill up the silent spaces. But I am an enthusiastic listener.
Over time, however, I began noticing that most people are not accustomed to being listened to and my very act of listening - misconstrued as ‘not speaking’ - was viewed as an act of defiance.
So I got further labelled:
and the cringe-worthy, Cultured. Because 'women should be seen, not heard'.
Over the years, I have heard ‘Why are you so quiet?’, ‘Why do you think so much?’ and ‘You have to put yourself out there. Go interact!’ more than anything else. Of course, I hope to live to see the day when ‘Thank you for listening’ becomes a part of our everyday parlance.
The struggle has been real.
Enter Susan Cain
Until I came across Susan Cain’s TED Talk.
Those 19 minutes that summer of 2012, I sat staring at my computer screen glued to my spot. ‘The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ – that turned out to be the beginning of a very redemptive moment of my life!
While 20 years ago - when I was still in school - the word ‘introvert’ hadn’t made its way into the world’s lexicon with the same fervour as it has in the past couple of years, now I had agency to vocabulary to stop shaming myself for 'my normal'.
Over the course of that journey, I realised that I had also been the one reinforcing to myself over the years that I ‘should not’ be so quiet. That being quiet was wrong!
But when Susan mentions her own struggles during the TED Talk: "And I made these self-negating choices so reflexively, that I wasn't even aware that I was making them.", I knew this had elements of my own story in it! And therein began a slow and gradual walk out of shame into self-acceptance, topped with a little bit of public awareness – the public, of course, were those within my own circles. I’d even read out an excerpt of her TED Talk transcript at my then-workplace’s mid-year retreat!
Cut the chase to the holiday season of December 2015 when I got over procrastinating and finally picked a copy of Susan’s book: Quiet.
It has been among the best gifts I’ve gotten for myself because it has helped me further along in my progress towards my own redemption.
Why 'Quiet' is the best gift I've gotten myself
Susan’s brutally honest all the way. Including about herself and the journey of her book: "The authors whose books get published – once accepted as a reclusive breed – are now vetted by publicists to make sure that they’re talk-show ready. (You wouldn’t be reading this book if I hadn’t convinced my publisher that I was enough of a pseudo-extrovert to promote it.)"
It was refreshing to hear the arguments from her interviews with different people on the subject of Leadership: “I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas. It’s easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent.”
I particularly loved her stance on how collaboration kills creativity with the New Groupthink that ‘elevates teamwork above all else’. It’s so rampant that even schools issue instructions such as ‘You can’t ask the teacher for help unless everyone in your group has the same question’. Instead, she advocates that we ‘seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships.’
There’s a treasure trove of nuggets for parents of introverted children too from experts Susan spoke to: “Instead of seeing these kids as vulnerable to adversity, parents should see them as malleable. …the ideal parent: someone who can read your cues and respect your individuality…” And of the introverted child, she mentions, “He had more acceptance of his parents than they had of him”
Susan, however, speaks for both – the introverts and the extroverts: “Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style. But we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.” To the Introvert, she says: “…find your flow by using your gifts… Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect…”
This book has not only been instrumental in helping me define my normal but also helped me feel normal about it. There is nothing debilitating about tapping into the power of your own quiet.