The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is about people who are quiet, their qualities, and how society underestimates these people. The book starts with a bang with the example of Rosa Parks who was an African-American woman with a quiet demeanor. The place is Alabama in the 1950s. She is in a segregated bus and when she refuses for not giving a seat to a white person, she is arrested. When she is on stage with Martin Luther King, the crowd becomes motivated to fight against the injustice.
This important incident in the U.S. civil rights movement not only shows the immense power of a quiet person, but shows how an extrovert (King) can use the introvert’s (Rosa) power to create a huge impact. Author Susan Cain says, “I had always imagined Rosa Parks as a stately woman with a bold temperament, someone who could easily stand up to a busload of glowering passengers. But when she died in 2005 at the age of 92 the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature. They said she was ‘timid and shy’ but had ‘the courage of a lion.’ They were full of phrases like ‘radical humility’ and ‘quiet fortitude.’”
The author, a self-confessed introvert, points out how society is biased against the introvert. From childhood they are taught that to be sociable is to be happy. Introversion is now “somewhere between a disappointment and pathology.” The Power of Introverts is not about extrovert-bashing. Extroversion is good, but we have made it into an “oppressive standard” to which introverts must conform.
So, is introversion a really “second class” trait? No, says the book. For starters, consider the introverts J.K. Rowling, Issac Newton, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Dr Seuss, Yeats, Steven Spielberg, Larry Page and so on. It shows how introverts, with the extroverts, enrich the society. Yet in schools, ideal students should be extroverts; in organizations there is insistence on working with teams and group conformity; authors must go out and talk on TV. There are drugs that claim to cure shyness and bring about personality transformation. Introverts are not anti-social. They and extroverts have different forms of engaging with the society. For example, introverts may prefer a meaningful conversation over a wild party.
Cain insists that the problem also lies at the individual level. Introverts feel guilty, for instance, when they do not want to go to a party and wish to enjoy their solitude. Introverts should identify their power. They are the thinkers who have the richness inside them, says Cain.
The book also delves upon how extroversion has become an ideal in America. Industrialization brought in mass production, and there was a need for people to talk, to sell these products. How one behaved in family and private took a backseat, and how one presented himself or herself in public became important. How the self-help industry took off with book titles such as How to Win Friends and Influence People.
We know that introverts can become scientists or writers. But Cain elucidates through some examples that introverts can also be good in areas where organizations might prefer extroverts. For example, introverts can become good leaders because they listen, they do not try to dominate others, and are humble. Of course, in addition to these qualities, they have the “professional will” to move the company forward. They can be good in sales or consultancy because it requires the ability to advise, question, understand, and focus on one thing rather than a wide range of topics.
The book lays out some strategies on how introverts can cope up with the world. For instance, being a pseudo-extrovert is okay but too much deception can harm the individual. Pseudo-extrovertism should be supported by meaningful values.
As parents, it means accepting your introverted child and helping the child cope with the world. Cain presents some strategies on how a parent can help an introverted child.
The part which wasn’t convincing for me was when Cain was trying to stereotype according to region saying that the extrovert trait is “less prevalent in Asia and Africa as compared to Europe and America”. But my gut feel says that it all boils down to an individual level as to whether he or she is an extrovert or introvert. In India, for example, I have seen plenty of extroverts.