I don’t know if you follow book reviews and what’s hot in the publishing world right now like I do, but if you do, you know there was a book earlier this year called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking. Written by Susan Cain, an introverted lawyer, she found she could use her quietness to her advantage. In Quiet Cain uses personal stories and analysis to discuss the attributes of introverts and compares them to extroverts. She discusses some strengths of being an introvert and writes about some steps which society could take to better incorporate introverts in the workplace.
I’ll have to be honest. I didn’t actually read the book (though the above summary was provided by an introverted friend who did read it). I purposefully chose not to read it because as an extrovert, I could see where this book was heading: broad generalizations on both introverts and extroverts alike, and a demonization of the extroverted lifestyle, portraying it as boorish, unnaturally loud, and disrespectful toward introverts.
And it turns out, the book can be read that way. The New York Times‘ book review summarizes:
Introverts — who, according to Cain, can count among their many virtues the fact that “they’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame” — must learn to “embrace the power of quiet.” And extroverts should learn to sit down and shut up (emphasis mine).
Yikes. Apparently introverts like Cain are tired of living in an extroverted world. Cain somewhat refuted the statements found in The New York Times on her blog, but essentially sticks to the party line that living in an extroverted world is harming introverts. They’re as mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore!
Now, I’m not saying there’s a war going on between introverts and extroverts. But with this book and the resounding articles and essays that came out in its wake, I wanted to make a defense for extroverts, and state that we’re not as loud and crazy as we seem.
For one thing, being an extrovert does not mean that you need to constantly be surrounded by loud, distracting noise and/or people. Even the title of Cain’s book portrays extroverts as incessant talkers. Common misconception. Extroverts thrive in lively, mult-paced environments, but are not necessarily found only in at the center of a party.
Let’s take me for example. It is well documented that I am an avid reader. However, reading is a solitary sport, and unless you are at a book reading or in Victorian times, chances are you aren’t reading aloud. So I seek ways to make my reading more communal. I run a book club, both here and in real life. I participate in book related social activities, like Lit Crawl NYC and ReLIT NY. I sell books at my church, where I can interact with dozens of people about what they’re reading. Even my job is book related, forming and maintaining book clubs on college campuses. All of this (naturally) resulted in me starting a new Tumblr: The Extroverted Reader. These literary social actions benefit introvert readers as well.
Despite being super extroverted in my reading-related activities, I still devote hours a day to the silent, solitary act of reading. While an extrovert, I still have introverted tendencies. And this is where my argument lies. Books and articles like the ones above do not help anyone. It reduces introverts into subordinate, backboneless fringes of society, and inflates extroverts into aggressive neanderthals who are always yelling. It’s rare that the extreme is the truth, and in the case of introverts vs extroverts, it holds true.
This year has seen a call for extroverts to understand where introverts are coming from and to meet them in their (presumably quiet) arena. And I agree. But I also call for introverts to step up and help their extroverted brothers and sisters out: we sometimes need a more fast-paced environment, you can agree to come to our large birthday party, and small talk will be the death of us.