Some of my favourite memories as a kid were playing alone in my Grandma and Grandpa’s living room while Grandma was making meals or cleaning. I played with my dolls, or whatever else was around. To be in the quiet was one of the most precious gifts I had growing up. I remember lots of times playing with my siblings and cousins and ending up in tears in my room, exhausted and overwhelmed. Those memories of playing alone in my room or in Grandma’s living room are the best. Imagination. Peace. Quiet. Joy. I’m not saying that I hated being around others, but growing up on a farm with three families meant that there weren’t too many places to find quiet. As a teenager when I visited my Grandparents, I loved walking to the pond behind their house in the horse pasture. I’d sit or stand there for a long time, content to see the farm, yet not be around people. I think I’ve always known I am an introvert. And I am grateful that I grew up in a family of introverts. I love sitting around at Christmas in my parents’ living room and everyone cracks open a book and just sits for hours in silence in the same room. Growing up, I was never pressured to be something I’m not. I was taught how to act in social situations, I was taught how to speak in public, and I was taught how to unwind and relax in peace and quiet.
Reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking was a nice, quick read that reinforced what I already know about myself. Even in how I practice my faith, Cain says it best: “Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…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 to the divine; it must be displayed publicly. Is it any wonder that introverts…start to quest their own hearts?” (Pg 69). I love liturgy and I know I’m not the only one.
In a conversation with a British cousin this week, talking about Christianity in North America, she could not understand what we, in North America, call the ‘altar call.’ She was speaking at a week-long camp for families. I personally think it’s a great idea to have a time for families to get together and be challenged by various speakers, but some of the extrovert activities and planning is just too much for me. I don’t think I could ever go back to camp as an adult. I wouldn’t survive. The pretending, the small talk, and the guilt of not engaging would crush me. And there lies the premise of Cain’s book. How do we support the introverts within our society that is obsessed with extroversion?
In her book, she describes introverts as “highly sensitive people…keen observers who look before they leap. They arrange their lives in ways that limit surprises. They’re often sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, pain, coffee, They have difficulty when being observed (at word, say, or performing at a music recital) or judged for general worthiness (dating, job interviews)” (Pg 136). Later, she observes that introverts/sensitive people can only engage in small talk after having a deep, authentic conversation with someone (Pg 152). She also describes how introverts are often masters at self-monitoring: they act in different ways in different situations in order to fit in. Yet with that acting and exertion of energy comes the need to re-energize in solitude. For introverts, open-concept classroom and office buildings are are nightmare!
She also describes how introverts are important to businesses and workplaces of all kinds because introverts tend to show less risk-taking activities. They will naturally/instinctually ask the hard questions about a project, an idea, or a proposal and they will weight options before making a final decision.
Overall, Cain’s book is nothing new for those introverts who have spent a lifetime negotiating how to survive in society and stay true to themselves. I think she wrote the book more for those extroverts who have no clue how to understand the introverts in their lives. She uses research, studies, stories, and anecdotes to get the point across that we need a balance between introverts and extroverts in all areas of society and that introverts should not be passed over just because they don’t act like the life of the party. It’s ok to be an introvert, even if society doesn’t think so!
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” (Susan Cain)
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pay close attention to this. I will make you seem like God to Pharaoh. Your brother, Aaron, will be your prophet; he will speak for you. Tell Aaron everything I say to you and have him announce it to Pharaoh.'” (Exodus 7:1-2)