I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s Quiet, and feeling much better about myself. In it Cain posits the idea that the modern world is designed to be lived in and run by extroverts. We’re all made to feel we should be out there bouncing around the world, meeting as many people as we can and having lots of fabulous experiences then telling everyone we know all about it. When we’re at work we should be pushing ourselves forward at meetings, shouting our ideas from the rooftops, leaving no room for silence or contemplation. However, as Cain suggests, based on a range of studies, one third to a half of us are introverts. We don’t cope well with constant stimulation but need solitude or quiet time in which to think and replenish our energies. I say ‘us’ because I’m an introvert, albeit a fairly sociable one. The prospect of a party does not fill me with joy, even when I know everyone who’s been invited – I’d far prefer to sit over supper with a few good friends and get stuck into discussion. Cain – a fellow introvert, unsurprisingly – qualifies her thesis with a great deal of research both derived from case studies and hands on. There’s a wonderful description of a weekend course run by that doyenne of management gurus, Tony Robbins, who works up his adoring audience to such an ecstatic pitch that he actually has them jumping onto their chairs and dancing – this would make me want to run screaming towards the nearest exit, I’m sure, but Cain almost feels herself caught up in it. It’s an enjoyable read – enlightening and rather sobering in its conclusion that the skewing of our world towards the extrovert view dismisses the value of the kind of quiet contemplation that might make it better. Quiet makes me proud to be an introvert, and who wouldn’t want to be counted alongside the likes of Rosa Parks whose quiet, determined action brought about enormous social change.
When discussing all this with H – another introvert but one who’s learnt to work the room after attending umpteen academic conferences – I asked him if he thought most readers were introverts to which he replied an emphatic ‘yes’. I tend to agree, although the book trade is a highly sociable, party-orientated bunch of introverts if that’s the case. What do you think? Would you class yourself as an introvert, an extrovert or perhaps an ambivert? Cain is definite that there is such a thing. When it comes down to it, would you rather go to a party or read a book?