"I'm concerned about Bethany. She doesn't like playing with the other children. She tells me that there are too many people, and she just wants to go home and jump on the trampoline."
I had to laugh several years ago when I found what my kindergarten teacher wrote on my report card. I've always been an introvert, even as a young child. When I saw the school bus coming around the corner, my stomach tied itself in knots of nervousness. I remember avoiding other kids while crawling through tunnels at the Playland McDonalds. On my fourth or fifth birthday, my mom had arranged for some of my little friends and sister to surprise me with party noise makers and the Happy Birthday Song as I came downstairs for breakfast. I screamed and ran back upstairs. Yes, I've always been an introvert.
Even as an adult, I haven't grown out of introvert tendencies. I still hate calling people on the phone, making small talk, or going to a party. In fact, my introversion has been magnified by my marriage to (surprise, surprise!) an extrovert. We've had a rather easy marriage so far, but one thing that constantly causes tension is his need to get out and see people, and my need to get away from people.
We Favor Extroverts
Ironically, as I read through Quiet, Hubs and I were taking a Dale Carnegie course. This created a kind of tug-of-war on my mind as Susan Cain was telling me to "be an introvert!" and Dale Carnegie was telling me to be an extrovert. The book even opens with Mr. Carnegie's story as an example of how we think extroverts are smarter and more capable better than introverts.
Susan points out that people who talk more in a group are seen as "smart". I thought about the "smartest" people in our Carnegie class, and sure enough I realized that I, too, thought the talkers were the smartest.
Especially in the self-help and business world, there is a great emphasis on "people skills". Introverts are seen as lazy, anti-social, and mostly... selfish. This was confirmed in our class when one of the students gave a talk about how he put down his headphones and talked to the lady sitting next to him, even though he was tired and didn't want to. "So my challenge," he concluded, "is for you to put down your headphones- especially you INTROVERTS who automatically want to put them on- and talk to someone. Because you never know who might need your encouragement at that moment." The whole class applauded loudly. I think he even might have got a standing ovation.
Lets admit it... extroverts are fun! I love extroverts, because they make me feel comfortable. They do all of the talking, they will be leaders in a group, and many times they will take responsibility over anything and everything. However, there are downsides to extroverts that people don't talk about. When they are alone, extroverts too are lazy. You wouldn't believe how much TV an extrovert is capable of watching when they're are bored with their own company. They have a hard time coming up with original ideas, and they depend on others to tell them what and how to believe (but of course they are much better at broadcasting these beliefs than introverts are!).
But Introverts are Valuable, Too
One of the things I love most about Quiet is how Susan Cain shows us the good things about introverts. She points out that master musicians only got that way by hours and hours of practice... alone. She points out that group ideas are never as good as individual ideas (the quiet people don't speak up, so basically it is the idea of the loudest person in the room). She explains why internet collaboration is far different than collaboration in person. When we introverts write something on the internet, all barriers are removed. We don't have to worry about being the fastest, wittiest, cleverest and loudest. We can share ideas without having to respond to feedback right away.
How Introverts and Extroverts Can Get Along
I think the key to introverts and extroverts living in harmony is recognizing that one is not better than the other. We complement each other. Growing up, my younger sister and I did everything together. I was the introvert, and she was the extrovert. In our teens, we were able to pull off some awesome stunts with my creativity and her people skills. Projects done individually were slightly less awesome. She didn't have any great ideas to feed off of, and I was a terrible presenter. But as we've gone our separate ways, both of us have found other introverts/extroverts to collaborate with, and have become better rounded ourselves. We should never sneeze at learning from other personality types. I've learned to talk more, and my sister has learned to read more. And we're both better for it.
Introverts & Learning
Remember the old quote, "You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read"? I've discovered that extroverts learn from the people they meet, and introverts learn from the books they read. It's true! Most of Hubs' opinions and beliefs come from people he knew (or knows) in person, and most of mine have come from books I've read. Of course he tries to read some books, and I try to learn by talking with people, but in general he is shaped by conversation and I am shaped by reading.
In schools, children are often graded on participation. This preference is highly biased toward extroverts, who literally learn by participation. Hubs learns out loud, by talking things out. It is easier for him to learn when he is surrounded by people. I am sure he was an ideal student in school.
I, on the other hand, have a hard time concentrating on anything when there are other people around. I can't even do dishes right when there is someone besides Hubs at my house! I must be alone in order to truly focus. This, perhaps, is why I learn so well and so easily from books, as opposed to a classroom setting.
This being said, I have only one negative thing to say about Quiet on education. While the author gives plenty of suggestions for how to help your introvert do better in school, she never tells us about the best schooling option for introverts: homeschooling. Homeschoolers get ample time alone. Because they are book learners, they get to learn from the best and brightest minds in history- not just their local high school teacher. Many moms worry about not being smart enough to homeschool, but a homeschool mom is more of a coach than a teacher. Introverts will tend to teach themselves once they get past elementary school or junior high.
The right student in the right environment can turn out to be light-years ahead of his peers. Many students taught at home are better off academically, spiritually, emotionally, financially and yes- even socially. An introvert will never be a social butterfly, but I firmly believe that a good real-world home school education can set him or her up for a lifetime of success. Social skills are NOT just about who can talk the most or the fastest. Social skills also include kindness, empathy, generosity and wisdom.
Introverts And Spirituality
One important topic that Susan brings up is introverts in the church. In this day and age, women especially are pushed to be "leaders" (a.k.a. talkers) in church. But if we claim to be Christian and believe in the Bible, we can't ignore women like the virgin Mary and Abraham's wife, Sarah. When Mary was told she would give birth to the Messiah, she didn't blurt it out to the whole world. The Bible specifically states that she "pondered these things in her heart". Sarah was praised as having a "quiet spirit". When you think of the sisters Martha and Mary, it is clear who was the extrovert. But still, Jesus praised Mary for sitting at his feet and listening.
In the New Testament, Paul has to tell women several times to just be quiet. Stop gossiping and being busybodies... just get your work done, ladies! The virtue of a hard-working but quiet woman in the church is just so, so overlooked today. Instead of being seen as already spiritual, quiet ladies are pushed to "come out of their shell" or "share with everyone" or "be empowered". We're pushed to be involved in children's ministry or women's ministry or this or that volunteer effort, to the neglect of family and home life. While I am not necessarily against church activities, the idea that more activities- or more PEOPLE- in your life make you more spiritual is absurd.
Introvert: No Longer a Bad Word
Several weeks ago, Hubs was telling me how frustrated he was with a certain person. "That guy is such a... such an INTROVERT!" he blurted out. I reminded him that calling someone an introvert is not actually a legitimate insult. Since when has "introvert" become a bad word? Like the man at my Dale Carnegie class, Hubs and many other extroverts (and even introverts, as well) have been trained to think introversion is a handicap or something selfish. It's not!
Toward the end of the book, Cain tells the story of an engaging and popular professor, who, against all appearances, is actually an introvert. She explains that introverts have the ability to act like extroverts, if our cause is important enough to us. We ALL have the capacity to act out of our personality, if we think we need to. It takes courage and goes against nature, but no one is bound by whether they are an introvert or extrovert. As long as we have some down time to recharge, introverts can be just as social and engaging as the next person.
During the last weeks of our Dale Carnegie class, I started hearing things like, "You're really coming out of your shell!" and "I'm impressed at how far you've come," and "You've made a lot of progress since the first week,". Progress! I thought, all smug. Really, I've just learned the art of acting!
If we have to do a bit of acting to "win friends and influence people", so be it. But let's not forsake the thoughtfulness, creativity, resourcefulness and listening ear that God gave us. The world needs it!
If you are an introvert or live with someone who is, be sure to check out this excellent book at your local library.