A Musing: Quiet


Hello. My name is jackiemania, and I’m an Introvert.

I’ve always known this on some level since I was a child (perhaps my instinct to run under the dining room table and hide whenever someone knocked on the door was a dead giveaway), but I didn’t really start to understand it until we had personality type testing done at my first job out of college (I worked in the library of a medical college, so it was the real deal). I’m a Myers-Briggs INFJ – and it’s kinda scary it’s so accurate.

I’ve heard lots of buzz about Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking that I felt that I had to read it, card carrying introvert that I am. Luckily my school library had a copy I could borrow.

I found the studies and scientists Cain talked about fascinating (Yes, I WAS a highly reactive baby!) and her thinking about the extrovert ideal, East vs West, “soft power,” and her historical overview of the topic well done. But, I though she stretched her suppositions in ways . . . I wouldn’t go.

The place that this was most evident was in her chapter about collaboration. Like I said before, I’m an uberintrovert but I cannot agree with Cain when she says that collaboration kills creativity. I know for a fact that the work I do both at work and school is richer (and better!) because of collaboration, participation, and working in teams.  Even very solitary work — writing and art — gets shared and discussed in workshops and crits. Think of labs. I just don’t see this as a bad thing. As an introvert, I may need to spend more time after my forays into extroversion quietly and alone, but it’s always worth it — I swear. One of the best things I’ve ever done for myself is force myself to participate — in school, in work, in life. I think the introverted Martin Luther King and Gandhi, who both worked intensely with others and gave countless speeches in front of zillions of people, would agree.

I also deeply disagree with her writing about schooling. She says that “the school environment can be highly unnatural, especially from the perspective of an introverted child who loves to work intensely on projects he cares about, and hang out with one or two friends at a time.” (253) Ah, couldn’t the same thing be said about extroverts — all that time spent reading, working math problems, and writing essays alone? The school environment is unnatural – for everyone. It’s a product of culture. Duh.

This introduces a very important point about the introvert/extrovert dichotomy — I’m not sure about what Cain is saying about extroverts by giving all these positive traits to introverts. If introverts are the great artists, are there no extrovert great artists? (Hello, Picasso!)  If introverts are the deep thinkers/inventors, is she saying that no extroverts are deep thinkers? (Steve Jobs!)  These assertions of Cain’s are simply untrue.

This might seem really picky, but as a literature minded individual I couldn’t let this go: She uses the “to thine own self be true” from Hamlet to mean inner integrity! And I quote:

“Shakespeare’s oft-quoted advice. “To thine own self be true,” runs deep in our philosophical DNA. Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of taking on a “false” persona for any length of time.” (210)

This is not “Shakespeare’s advice.” As I wrote about before, this line is from Polonius, and does not mean “honor your integrity” at all in the context of the play. It disturbs me deeply that a Princeton and Harvard educated lawyer (and her editors!) would think it was ok to use this quote with confidence. How can I take this book seriously if the author feels she can use an example from Hamlet in a way which makes me think that she did not read or understand the play? What else might she have skimmed over or not understood in her research?

In short, I didn’t find this book the revelatory experience into my nature that I thought it would be. I already figured out most of her “advice” decades ago: do what you love and need to do, but create places and activities that restore you after venturing outside of your comfort zone. Figure out what isn’t worth it to you, and skip those things (small talk at parties — not for me! but you have to go to a few parties to find that one person you want to sit in the corner and talk to all night. Literally and figuratively).

(image: I ❤ Grant Snider! All of his comics are amazing — check them out! )



  1. RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book

    Interesting on your thoughts with schooling and introversion/extroversion!

    As a person who is kind of in the middle of introvert/extrovert (meaning I am super outgoing and loud and will never shut up and enjoy going out but I NEED my alone time and would prefer a night in with my book as opposed to a huge party), I thought that Quiet was really insightful. I read it to gain more insight into introverts, but I also gained insight into myself.

  2. chezjulie

    I haven’t actually read Quiet, but just the awareness she raised about introverts was helpful to me when I supervised an introvert in recent years. (I’m actually an introvert, too, but I do like to socialize and discuss things at work). It inspired me to read a few book reviews and articles on introversion so I could better understand my employee’s needs.

    And, gah! I hate it when people use the Polonius quote as though it was supposed to be profound advice from Shakespeare. The point in the play was basically that Polonius was a windbag!

  3. ebookclassics

    Very interesting to read your thoughts on Quiet. Would you still recommend it to read? I always find the personality types so fascinating. My type keeps changing over the years, but I’m still considered an introvert.

  4. Candiss

    I’ve been considering reading this one. You raise some valid criticisms of the book which actually make me want to read it more. I like having something to chew over internally as opposed to just nodding along with everything an author says, so some of Cain’s more debatable assertions will be good thinking points for me.

    (I’m an INFJ, too! In offline life, I never seem to encounter any of us, but online we seem more readily located. 20-some years ago, as a teen, I always tested as INTJ, but since maturing and raising a son, I’ve tested F every time. I think age has improved my Feeling abilities and made me more open to things outside the Thinking realm.)

    • jackiemania

      That’s one of the things I love about the internet. 🙂 I don’t know anyone in my physical word who, say, loves Barbara Pym, but I have interacted with loads of people online who love her to distraction!

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