In 2012, Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” turned out to be one of the year’s unexpected bestsellers. Months after its publication, a video with excerpts from her book was uploaded to YouTube and has since gained over 1,400,000 views. Why has her work gained so much critical and public attention? Because it boldly disputes the widespread notion that success goes hand in hand with extroversion.
The video, called “The Power of Introverts,” discusses the social dominance of what Cain calls “the extrovert ideal.” This ideal puts special value on extroverts because of their bold personalities and great people skills.
Extroverts’ proclivity for quick decision-making and risk-taking wins them admiration from their friends and co-workers and often results in success in their professional and social lives.
Conversely, Cain says, introverts are overlooked because their inclination for slower, more conscious decision-making and contemplation results in their being labeled “boring” and “lazy” by their peers. Furthermore, because they often value self-reflection and “recharge their batteries” by spending time alone, introverts are discounted as antisocial. Indeed, because introverts are so often misunderstood, they tend to be undervalued in our society.
With her book, Cain hopes to rectify these false assumptions and remind the world that introverts are just as capable of success as extroverts, though the world may have to change its way of thinking in order for this to happen. Essentially, Cain says the difference between extroverts and introverts is chemical.
Indeed, a huge factor in the different behavior displayed by extroverts and introverts in social situations has to do with their reactions to outside stimuli.
Extroverts tend to thrive in social situations and are very receptive to the level of outside stimulation inherent in socializing.
On the other hand, introverts often enjoy social situations but tend to be overwhelmed by the level of outside stimulation involved and may respond differently than extroverts, perhaps by leaving early or talking to only a few people.
This brings up an important distinction: that between introversion and shyness. “The Power of Introverts” notes that shyness is a fear of social disapproval and humiliation, while introversion is a preference for situations that are not overstimulating. Interestingly, there is such a thing as a shy extrovert – someone who has to overcome fear or anxiety to be social and appears confident when they do. This proves that there is no such thing as a “pure extrovert” or a “pure introvert.”
Cain’s video definitely speaks to many of the challenges faced by introverts in an extrovert-focused society. Her statements about the introvert’s overstimulation in social situations and their equal appreciation of socializing and spending time alone both create a picture of what introversion is like and emphasize the duality inherent in the nature of introversion. Her work is at once thought-provoking and illuminating.
With ideas like these in mind, Cain hopes to change the way our society thinks about introverts and give them a chance to have the same social and professional success as extroverts.
As a society, it is our responsibility to remember that all individuals are different and that one type of personality should not be valued over any other because of its relative adherence to social norms. When given the proper chance, both sides have great things to contribute.
Nina Hagen ’15 firstname.lastname@example.org is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English.