Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Quiet

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Quiet

Article excerpt

Is it getting harder to hear the quiet voices among us?

Emily and Greg are a lovely young couple who enjoy life as a twosome - most of the week. But not on Friday nights.

Come Friday night, the gregarious Greg wants to throw a party - the livelier the better. It's how he unwinds. But Emily, a private person, would find dinner and a movie with her husband more relaxing. Who is right?

More and more, contemporary society imagines that it's Greg, worries writer Susan Cain in her new book, Quiet. From the halls of Harvard Business School to the pews of today's megachurches to the places where our smallest children play, Cain suggests, extroverts are viewed as the winners. To be confident, outgoing, and assertive has become a mark of success, while quiet, deliberate people who think before they speak are too often relegated to life's B-list.

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"[T]oday we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles," writes Cain. "We're told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts - which means we've lost sight of who we really are."

It wasn't always this way, says Cain. Coinciding with the rise of Dale Carnegie and his focus on winning friends and influencing people, she posits, America shifted from a "Culture of Character" to a "Culture of Personality." As fewer people lived and worked in small towns and on farms, and more worked in offices and interacted with people they didn't grow up with, gregariousness became a more valued trait.

And yet, estimates Cain, as many as a third to half of Americans are actually what she calls "introverts."

To understand Cain's argument, it is important not to confuse introversion with timidity. Although Cain's definitions remain a bit loose, you could shorthand her message by saying that she defines as extroverts those who find strength from without and introverts as those who draw strength from within.

Introverts are not necessarily shy and not always sensitive (although a goodly number are one or the other and some are both. …

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