Book review of Quiet by Susan Cain, 2012

Susan Cain was a Wall Street lawyer who found herself in a job that didn’t quite fit. She began a journey to work out why. She argues that ours is a society that highly values extroverts, people who are gregarious, who move quickly and who are sometimes just plain loud. The flip side of this is that people who are closer to the introvert end of the continuum, those who are more inclined to think deeply and prefer, or indeed, need more solitary time, can be overlooked. Worse, these people can be penalised or labelled as anxious for behaviour that is actually just an individual difference. Susan reminds us that the world needs people at the introvert end of the spectrum every bit as much as people at the other end.

My one caveat when reading this book is to note that these personality types sit on the opposite ends of a continuum. The vast majority of us will sit somewhere between the two extremes.  There will be very few “pure” introverts and likewise, very few “pure” extroverts. This is not a black and white concept. In addition, your position on this continuum is somewhat flexible. You will appear more or less introverted depending on the situation you are in. For example, the glass of wine I have in the pub with my workmates on a Friday night is like me getting a dose of extraversion, making me just that little bit louder, talkative and impulsive.

In addition to the book, Susan has recorded a Ted Talk which nicely summarises her work. I recommend this book and the Ted Talk to people who are anxious, hoping that they may recognise that some of what has been labelled “anxiety” is more accurately a preference for some solitude and time to think deeply about the world. This is not pathology, in fact, the world could do with a bit more of it.

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