Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) is an intriguing and important work. Cain thoughtfully explores the innumerable differences between introverts and extraverts, as well as the myriad ways in which introverts are misunderstood and underestimated in a culture driven by extraverted ideals.
Despite incorporating massive amounts of psychological research, Quiet reads more like a story than a textbook. Cain takes readers on a stimulating journey, which begins with a look at how the “extraverted ideal” characterizes things from Harvard business school culture, to Tony Robin’s seminars, to evangelical mega churches. Cain’s effortless style and lucid prose remind me a bit of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. But unlike Gilbert’s work, which is a memoir through and through, Cain manages to integrate of a breadth of psychological research into an equally entertaining storyline.
In addition to painting a sweeping mosaic of introverts and extraverts, as well as prevailing cultural attitudes toward these types, Cain unearths a number of biases and moral concerns. Most notably, she suggests that American culture is biased toward extraverted ideals, to the point where introverts are perpetually misunderstood, mistreated, and underestimated. After all, if fairness has to do with equality, shouldn’t introverts be treated with an equivalent measure of dignity and respect as extroverts? And this is where Cain is at her best. Not only does she entertain and educate, but provokes and enlightens. In illustrating the depth and breadth of our cultural biases, she uncovers a glut of hidden assumptions and indiscretions we might otherwise miss.
As an introvert myself, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by Quiet. Cain does a masterful job of highlighting the countless strengths of the introverted approach, as well as its inestimable value to society. She reminds introverts that their gifts, though often overlooked or under-appreciated by culture at large, are actually valuable strengths that need to be cherished, nourished, and celebrated. This shines through as Cain recounts her own journey, in which she realized the necessity of transitioning from a culturally-endorsed, extraverted career as a corporate lawyer, to finding her way as a freelance writer, educator, and consultant. Through her own story, Cain embodies the introvert ideal, involving a renunciation of extraverted values, a rediscovery of her own inner voice and values, and finally, a translation of those ideals into the outside world.
Cain, a self-described INFP, also serves as a great INFP case study. Her initial pursuit of corporate law can be understood psychologically as a quest for her inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te). After realizing that this path was ultimately unhealthy and unsatisfying for her as an INFP, she found her purpose (and herself) by enlisting her Fi and Ne in her work as a writer, educator, and advocate for a cause she is passionate about.