In praise of Quiet

I have just finished Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I found it revelatory - almost exhilarating at times - because of the way it refreshes and validates the cultural importance of the introvert temperament. Quiet explores the personality poles of introversion and extroversion as the "north and south of temperament". It does so in a way that showcases the downside of America's unbridled extroversion, while reclaiming the power of introversion as a grounding, sustaining force within human culture. Most political and corporate leaders are drafted from the ranks of extroverts. George W. Bush's uber-extroverted, "bring it on" approach to our invasion of Iraq - his "shoot now and aim later" approach to the politics of war, was an example of extroversion at its most destructive. In finance, this kind of reckless hubris led to the Wall Street abuses that nearly toppled our global financial institutions in 2008. In both cases, more introverted and thoughtful voices who urged caution in our ramp up to war, or who called attention to patterns of financial abuse prior to the crash, were simply brushed aside as naive, inconsequential nay-sayers.

In contrast, Al Gore is, by most accounts, an introvert, and his recent work on climate change has shown some of the classic powers that introverts possess. As Cain writes, "On the subject of global warming, Gore has a clarity of voice that eluded him as a politician. For Gore, immersing himself in a complicated scientific puzzle comes naturally. Focusing on a single passion rather than tap dancing from subject to subject comes naturally. Even talking to crowds comes naturally when the subject is climate change. Gore on global warming has an easy charisma and connection with audience members that eluded him as a political candidate. That's because this mission, for him, is not about politics or personality. It's about the call of his conscience."

I love working alone, and my choices of lifestyle and livelihood have taken me as far from the New Groupthink and social hive as I can get - to the wilds of Alaska for several months a year as a fisherman and wilderness guide, into the contemplative  solitude of the writer's craft, and to Buddhist monasteries for regular silent meditation retreats. These are the places I have felt most fully alive, and where my best work has been seeded. Cain has helped me understand, and put to rest, the unconscious residue of doubt about the value of these introvert tendencies in a rampantly extroverted culture.

Quiet has reaffirmed for me the ways that both creativity and conscience are core fruits of the introvert temperament, and how crucial they are to our survival. Without people to carry these values forward in the culture, Cain says, "we will, quite literally, drown."