On Susan Cain’s QUIET & Writing an Essay About Introversion
Once I discovered that there was a book on introversion, I knew I needed to read it and write a book chat about it.
The book I’m talking about is Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which was everything I wanted it to be — yet I finished the book feeling a little unsatisfied.
If you didn’t know, Quiet by Susan Cain is a nonfiction novel that explores what introverts (and extroverts) are, why people in the U.S. think extroversion is the “right” personality trait, and why the world needs to see introversion as a positive trait instead of a trait that hinders people’s academic and social success.
Though I’m going to explain later in this post why I felt unsatisfied after reading Quiet, I would definitely recommend this book to everyone and anyone I meet, whatever their personality might be, because I feel like everyone can learn so much from reading this book. If you regard yourself as an introvert, then you will have so much fun relating to the stories and facts within this book. If you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum — an extrovert — then you should approach this book with an open mind, be ready to read about the experiences of introverts, and think about ways you can change your mentality to be more inclusive and/or considerate of the introverts around you.
I’m currently in the process of writing a research essay, and I knew right away when I got the assignment that I wanted to research introversion. I was already in the middle of reading Susan Cain’s book, so that was already one source I could use and cite, but not only that, but introversion was also something I was passionate about and could relate to. I consider myself an introvert — and I would love to learn more about this personality type.
So, what is an introvert? Here’s an excerpt from the introduction of Quiet that I used as the foundation of my understanding for the difference between an extrovert and an introvert:
Extroverts are the people who will add life to your dinner party and laugh generously at your jokes. They tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely finding themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say. They’re comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.
Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions. (11)
The first thing I noticed about Cain’s writing after rereading parts of her books for my essay was the language she uses. For example, in the excerpt above, she never states that all introverts are like this, and all extroverts are like that. Instead, she state that “Many [introverts] have a horror of small talk” (11) and “[Extroverts] tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company” (11). I kept this in mind while I was writing my own essay, because I never want to accidentally state a lie by saying all people act or are a certain way. How can you actually prove that all people are a certain way when there always seems to be exceptions?
In Chapter Four, Cain re-accounts her interview with Jerome Kagan, who did research on the physiologies and personalities of a group of children from their time as infants to adolescence (Cain). To quickly summarize, Kagan found out that infants who reacted strongly to new stimuli (the “high-reactives”) “were most likely to grow into quiet teenagers” (100) while the infants who didn’t react strongly to the stimuli were most likely to grow into more gregarious teenagers.
When Cain suggested that a quiet girl she knew was a high-reactive, Kagan responded with, “No!… Every behavior has more than one cause. Don’t ever forget that!” (Kagan as cited in Cain, 2012).
Once I read this, I wanted to have a mini dance party or something of the sort — because this was precisely what I had been thinking since I started reading the book. I went into reading Quiet thinking that this one book holds as the answers to why I am the way I am and why other introverts I know are they way they are — but the further I got along the book, despite the fact that I was learning so much and gaining so much insight into the personality traits of extroverts and introverts, the more I realized that most of the answers I wanted wasn’t going to be in the book.
Cain mentions in the book how introverted and extroverted personalities lie on a spectrum, and how, as psychologists agree, there is no one who is a pure extrovert or pure introvert. I also learned that there are people who are neither extroverted or introverted — they’re ambiverts, people with both personality traits.
Then again, if there are no pure introverts and extroverts, then there shouldn’t be any pure ambiverts either.
And if that’s the case, then what are we in terms of personality if there is no right answer?
Not only that, but some people can completely change their personality for certain periods of time or stretch their personalities to temporarily become someone different, something that is referred to as the Rubber Band Theory of Personality.
THIS IS SO UTTERLY COMPLICATED. 😣
The thing about taking a side and writing an argumentative research essay is that I want to make sure I completely understand my topic and don’t argue about something that a) might be misleading, but b) also might be completely flase. As I’m doing this research on introversion, I’m realizing that I won’t be able to fully understand this topic in the time I have to write this essay — at least, not to the extent that I want to.
I feel like I now have a foundational understanding on introversion, but now I want to learn more about extroverts. And ambiverts. And are there more labels for personality than these three that I’ve been encountering throughout my research of “introvert,” “extrovert,” and “ambivert”? How do gender roles play into this, and what other factors influence personality? Kagan said above that “Every behavior has more than one cause” — so what are those causes? Is there a list?
And if personality is as heavily influenced by our background and experiences as it is my genetics, then how can we possible fully understand why introverts are the way they are if every single human being on this earth has a unique set of experiences?
For now, with my understanding of this topic, I think the answer might be… we never will?
Though I will definitely try and read more books on personality traits, I’m in no rush. These books will come to me when I want to read them, and for now, they can wait. In the midst of diving into this research of introversion for my essay, I have educated myself and answered many questions about myself and other people I had floating around in my head.
However, no one fits into a box, and I don’t feel like anyone should be trapped in one.
So yes, I am an introvert. But sometimes I feel like an ambivert. Yet I’ve never felt like an extrovert — though I’ve tried to be one, and discovered I’d rather not be an extrovert. And though I feel like I am an introvert, I don’t believe I should be put neatly into a box labeled, “Introvert.”
Instead, how about “Person”? How about “Human”? Anyone can act out of character. There are always exceptions to everything. And I’m beginning to find evidence that more often than not, when we’re talking about the complexity of human nature and people, there is never a solid yes or no answer.
It’s always “maybe,” or “if,” or “when,” or “sometimes.” And maybe this is why I love reading books about people — because even though I’ll never have a solid answer as to why someone is acting the way they are, I’ll gain a little more knowledge. A little more insight. I’ll even venture to say that I gain a little more wisdom about the world when I read these books.
And at least I’m trying to understand. One of my favorite books in the world is Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee, and the narrator states near the end of the novel that
People these days love to speculate on the apocalypse — whether our ultimate demise will be due to nuclear warfare or zombie epidemic or alien invasion. But I think it’s more likely that our end will come on a normal day when we all stop trying to figure out the why of anyone around us and go live in separate houses and rot away, alone. (Ormsbee)
I think this quote is one of the most beautiful ones I have encountered in my entire life as a reader (I loved it so much that I drew the quote and put it up on my art wall), and I also feel like it would relate to what I took away from doing all this research on introversion reading Susan Cain’s book. I finished Quiet feeling unsatisfied because I wanted more, even though Cain did a wonderful job introducing me to plentiful studies and research done on personality that I had no idea already existed. I learned much about introversion, but I still didn’t understand it entirely — and that’s okay.
At least I’m trying to understand.
Trying to understand ourselves and the people around us will always be better than giving up, or worse, not caring. So to conclude this post, I would like to recommend for everyone who comes across this post to read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, and learn as much as you can from that book. Just keep in mind that you are a unique person and therefore cannot fit into one neatly labeled box. It’s so wonderful to read a book on introversion when you are an introvert, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be gregarious sometimes or that you always will be afraid of public speaking (extroverts have that problem too!).
That‘s what I took away from reading this novel.
Thanks for reading, and I will cya next time!