Quiet by nature


窓辺にて by A-KA, on Pixiv

Ruben and I recently spotted a book in Kinokuniya, called Quiet by Susan Cain, and decided given our respective personalities we simply needed to read it and see what we could glean from it.

Although we are still only at the beginning of the book, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts I had while reading the first chapter, even though Cain masterfully answers my questions or covers my own thoughts even as I read on. Perhaps I’ll be documenting more thoughts in future posts as I read through.

Quiet strength

“Why shouldn’t quiet be strong?” Cain asks, and this was always something I had no doubt about. Perhaps as a naturally quiet person, I have insight into that perspective. Or simply it is the fact that I’ve read more than enough times in books about ‘quiet determination’.

It’s just another reminder that such stereotypes about quiet people are simply ridiculous.

Ruben quoted a line from the book early this morning on Twitter:

“We’re told to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable”

And Cain explains a phenomenon called the Extrovert Ideal. Pertaining to one of her analogies, if an introvert in an extroverted world is like being a woman in a man’s world, I’d like to know what being an introverted woman in an extroverted man’s world is really like.

But I digress, there is a crazy amount of negative stigma against quiet people and when I was young, I realised that it was in some ways what set me apart from the other children. I had a quiet (hah) pride in the comments on my report cards that said I was ‘as quiet as a mouse’ — especially since mice can be cute, fluffy little creatures, even if not necessarily quiet.

It was different case for the comments that said I needed to ‘speak up’ and ‘ask more questions in class’, however. By not asking questions, there was the assumption that I perhaps was not getting enough out of the classes as I was not asking about anything I didn’t understand. I justified my actions by telling myself that other students had already asked the teacher anything I wanted to know — and usually, they had.

Without reading further though, there were two specific institutions that I thought particularly perpetuated this Extrovert Ideal. Companies in general (employers), and educational institutions (universities, primary/elementary/middle/high school). More people are hired if they show themselves to be someone more of extroverted end of the spectrum who goes out there and takes action over quiet people that don’t seem to mesh as well with the team dynamic.

This feels to be in the same way for universities too, where students are encouraged to asked questions or call out answers. Personally I dislike to reply and will remain silent in most cases unless singled out, but it is interesting that Ruben usually likes (or at least tries if not ‘like’, per se) to contribute his knowledge while I try to fade in with the table.

While some introverted people may enjoy to work in their own cubicle, personally I have found that although I don’t like people being able to see my screen or see my face, I similarly dislike being in a cubicle all on my own. A positive team environment I enjoy greatly, and it was missing from all of my previous internships, which made me quite miserable during them, less motivated and less productive.

Does this mean I’m not an introvert?

Shy and teary Akemi Homura

Introverted or Extroverted?

In the past, I’ve largely thought of myself as an introvert. I enjoyed keeping to myself in classes and I liked to sit at home and watch anime rather than going out and meeting people. I even called myself a hikikomori because of the amount of time I spent indoors. Regardless, I still liked anime club gatherings, as it was those rare times I was able to gather with like-minded people, and I liked to work in groups when the people I worked with were like-minded or the actual project itself was stimulating.

Of late however, I don’t feel like I fit the typical definition of a introvert. Cain references Carl Jung’s publications when she summarises that introverts recharge their batteries while being alone, and extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialise enough.

I’ve never explicitly felt a compulsive need to be alone in the past, however it’s true there were often times I wanted be alone while ironically in a crowd of people. I liked to walk through markets and shopping centres by myself after some social events. Often I am uncomfortable socialising with people much older than me, but I don’t seem to have a problem with those of the same age, unless I need to address a group of them.

But recently, it’s disturbing to be alone for an entire day, there’s a need to interact with someone even for a short time. Although I was used to being alone, that didn’t mean that I necessarily always liked it, and I feel like I’m tired of being alone.

How does this extend to significant others? Ruben says that while after social events he likes to be able to recharge his batteries, having me around is not a problem. From my perspective, having him around recharges my batteries during the day to allow me to continue navigating the social event in the first place, and simply to remind me that I don’t have to stick it out alone.

Cain shows she has definitely placed immense thought in her book, as she goes on to point out that there can be no absolute definition for these terms. They cannot determine who qualifies as which. Why could I not see something so obvious?

With Cain’s additional perspectives, I would more than qualify as an introvert — even if not a Jung-defined one. In her provided test I scored 12 true and 8 false out of 20 questions, but this still places me on the more introverted part of the spectrum.

It just goes to show: never generalise. As I’ve usually tried to remember: there are always multiple ways of looking at something.

A matter of culture?

I won’t say much on this as it’s bound to be covered in the book, but Cain asks “Is our cultural preference for extroversion in the natural order of things, or is it socially determined?”

Extroversion isn’t only favoured in America though, it is in many Western places such as here in Australia, and quiet/socially inept people in Japan for instance also enjoy negative stigma. Although Asians are generally more reserved in general rather than gifted with loud-personalities, the more introverted can still come out on the bottom.

There does seem to be a reason that introversion has still stuck around though, even if society seems to idealise extroversion as a whole. People who are able to get out there and network get the best jobs, people who have those charismatic personalities are able to go far, but I think the time is right for introverted people to make a comeback again. The internet empowers more introverted people than ever these days, and helps quiet people make connections to professionals online and secure jobs without necessarily going to networking events and mingling with all of the people there.

I’ll be interested to learning more about what has come out of this research. I may not love myself as much as perhaps I should yet, but the time will come one day perhaps. And for all other introverts too.

Top illust 窓辺にて by A-KA, on Pixiv.
No credits supplied for Homura illust.