Note: First, this blog post was written on Girlsonit.com back in March. Second, I have not taken the time to read Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, however, I feel compelled to discuss her TED talk on the subject matter.
I am far from what one would call an introvert, but some of my favorite moments are being by myself, lost in my thoughts. Or I could be at the park reading a book and looking up every so often, watching a swan swim by, contemplating life. Or even sitting by candlelight drafting a new blog post. I agree, whole-heartedly, that much of the way society functions could be favoring a more animated personality, and I realize that possibly we might look upon a person who is more quiet and reserved as having something wrong with them. However, I think we have to be careful when we start pitting extroverts against introverts or vice versa. I think what we ought to do is start to understand and embrace introvert personalities and even encourage all of us to experience introverted moments.
I am sure for most of us in middle or high school that we either picked on (or even bullied) someone that was quiet and preferred solitude, or possibly we were that person being picked upon. In this case, I do believe we need to take the time to explain and educate our children to understand that these personalities are normal and we need to accept them for who they are. This is when Susan Cain is right in saying that our schools and the general educational environment seems to favor the more "extroverted" personality. We could gain tremendously from bringing classrooms and auditoriums together to discuss this so everyone becomes more enlightened. I think we could go even further to not just have entrance tests and exams in specific subject areas, but additionally have tests such as the Myers-Briggs personality test, which is usually used for professional purposes, but could be extremely beneficial within the education system.
Within the professional environment, when Cain mentions that she is against the open-office environment, I had to laugh. So, what's the alternative? To make sure we are constructing a portion of each and every office environment specifically for introverts? She mentioned creating and having a type of "cafe area" within each office setting. So then everyone works in enclosed offices and the only time and way we socialize or communicate face-to-face is when we go to the office's "cafe"? Different industries and professions foster different types of working environments, and I believe you really have to embrace that environment in a way that is best suited for your personality.
What I found really interesting is when Cain started discussing famous people, their contributions to religion, society, etc and saying that they were all examples of introverts. I happened to go to a very interesting, small, private school in Toronto, Canada called Thornton Hall Senior Private School. The foundation of that school's philosophy was the liberal arts. Besides learning the basics in math, science, and languages like French, we were taught art, art history, classic civilizations, modern civilizations, the history of religion, and the list goes on. We studied everyone from Vincent Van Gogh to Gandhi, from Joseph Campbell to Socrates, from Buddha to Picasso, and so on. She mentioned many of these same people and how they are all introverts. I learned about who these people were and the works of art they created. Did they accomplish these things in solitude? Yes, most of the time. But rather than categorizing them as "introverts", we were educated about how these people function, why they created such incredible works of art, and were even encouraged to create and embrace those moments of solitude and how important they were for the soul.
And this is where I believe what we need to do is talk about why some people have more moments of solitude than others, or why it's so important to have those moments of quiet be it for reading, drawing, cooking, knitting, or just sitting and gazing out a window and contemplating life. What I think we have to be careful with is getting to the point in which we think one is better than the other, or brushing off someone as being an introvert when possibly that person could have a form of depression, or a type of debilitating anti-social behavior, something where that person could be suffering and really need help.
I realize that Susan Cain's TED talk is just the surface of what she writes about in her book. If any of you have read her book, I would love to hear your feedback about it and let me know if there's something to gain by reading it. However, I think what we need to do as a society is stop segmenting, pigeonholing, creating labels for people, or say that introverts are cooler and even more intelligent than extroverts. What we ought to do is educate, embrace, and enlighten ourselves more about what makes people different and how this forms a dynamic and interesting society we all can benefit from.
For more by Robyn N. Cohen, click here.
For more on emotional intelligence, click here.