I have always been drawn to the concept of human temperament; innate qualities individuals
bring from birth or before in contrast to the ways we are formed and influenced by the
environment. A father recently described his daughter and son to me, fraternal twins. In the womb
she kicked and moved constantly; he floated. In kindergarten she told him what color crayon to use
and instructed him in every way. (They had to separate them!). As adults they continue to embody
life with vastly different rhythms and styles. From the beginning of life some children seem more
reflective or contemplative, sensitive and easily overwhelmed while others throw themselves into
the world, at times with reckless abandon. We see the same qualities in adults. There are many
systems that endeavor to describe the fascinating ways human beings engage with life and one
another. The Introvert/Extrovert* continuum, popularized by the Jungian perspective, permeates many
psychological models. Susan Cain's new book
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't
opens up an important conversation, giving voice to the way we have turned from the
Introvert's mode of creative process and contributions.
Susan Cain is passionate about this subject; she describes how Introversion has become a 2nd
class personality trait. 1/3 to 1/2 of Americans are Introverts; that is 1 out of every 2 or 3
people you know, yet many pretend to be Extroverts. Cain traces the movement from a Culture of
Character to a Culture of Personality, elevating an alpha value in our American society; what she
calls the "Extrovert Ideal". Society has become organized around the group: classroom desks form
pods for interactive work, work environments focus on teams and offices without walls. These
structures expose everyone to high levels of stimulation. Introverts and Extroverts have very
different needs when it comes to sensory and social stimulation and how they recharge the nervous
system when depleted.
Introverts have a strong pull to the inner world for sustenance, to rejuvenate. It is like
going to a well to refresh and fill so the creative impulse can function well. When an introverted
individual is in a stimulating social environment there is a threshold and when reached moves the
individual to find a quieter more restorative space. In contrast extroverted individuals thrive on
stimulation and interaction; their creativity is sparked by engaging with the world and others.
Cain's motivation for writing her book is to help restore respect for introverted qualities in our
culture. Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thoughts, feelings, and intuition where they
are inspired. Collaboration is not the only mode of creative process. Introverts are not hermits,
antisocial or even necessarily shy. Their preference for an environment that is not overly
stimulating allows them to bring their gifts to the world.
Cain cites well-known figures such as Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Eleanor Roosevelt,
and Gandhi to model the soft power of the introvert ideal. Her hope is that our culture can evolve
to include the sensitive, introspective and powerful leadership input from our more introverted
citizens. She encourages Introverts to stay true to their deep, empathic natures rather than feel
pressured to be gregarious and outwardly dynamic all the time to be valued. There are social
skills to develop to facilitate functioning in the outer world for those with strong introverted
preferences but not at the expense of knowing the important contribution observant and perceptive
introverted capacities afford. Parents of introverted children can learn parenting attitudes that
respect the gifts of their sensitive offspring. We are all enriched as we embrace both the
Introvert and Extrovert ways of being.
*the spelling used is congruent with the spelling in the book versus Extravert, as in the original Jungian usage.