In our boisterous Western culture, a quiet temperament is generally disfavored, like an undesirable recessive gene that society tries its best to repress. As an introvert, I’ve experienced this bias against quiet people my whole life. When every member of the high school swim team received a descriptive award at the end of each season, my award was always given sarcastically as ‘The Most Talkative’ or some other variation on that theme. I smiled when I went up to accept these awards–which, after all, were meant to be all in jest–but it started to bother me. It also wasn’t uncommon for someone to approach me (often someone I didn’t know) and inquire, “Why are you so quiet?” as if it wasn’t a rude thing to say, although those people would have considered it rude of me to inquire back, “Why are you so loud?” It wasn’t considered rude to try to seek out the source of my introversion and subvert my personality because society tells us that there is something inherently wrong with being an introvert, as if it’s the job of extroverts to find this undesirable quality and weed it out in people. No wonder I was so self-conscious and had low self-esteem in high school when most people treated me as if I were deficient in some vital characteristic that makes up the essence of who society tells us we all should be as people.
Listening to the audiobook of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a self-confidence building exercise for me. It is a morning routine that I thoroughly enjoy. Cain explores the values of introverts that are all too often overlooked in a society that upholds a bubbly, outgoing personality as the ideal. I wanted to tell those people who continually insisted on pigeonholing me as simply ‘quiet’ that there is far more to me than that. I wanted to tell them that as a quiet person, I am also highly introspective, creative, and imaginative–so why not classify me that way? Their biases limited their perspective, so they equated quietness with being aloof and standoffish. Of course, personality traits are far more complicated than that. There are often both benefits and drawbacks of having a certain personality trait, but society has established and continually reinforced the negative association that most people (including myself for some time when I internalized the negative comments and reactions I received–and still do receive–as a quiet person) have toward quiet people.
I am sure that there are countless quiet children who are made to feel ashamed of themselves for this one, inborn trait. I am sure that there are a number of people who have had similar experiences to mine, people who–like I was–are afraid to stand up for themselves and try to communicate that there is more to their identity than the number of words they utter in a minute. There is value in being quiet, for introverts see the world differently in their vivid imaginings (that often lead them to pursue creative activities such as writing, playing music, inventing, etc.) than extroverts do. I think Susan Crain’s Quiet is already exposing cracks in the foundation of the extrovert ideal, and hopefully her work will continue to encourage readers to question the introvert bias and encourage introverted readers specifically to assert some pride in being quiet.