What’s Wonderful? Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Our culture made  a virtue of living only as extroverts.  We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for center.  So we lost our center and have to find it again. ~ Anais Nin

  • Could we have prevented the Wall Street crash of 2008?
  • How do introverts and extroverts work together in love?
  • How can introverts act like extroverts and still have energy?
  • If introverts were in charge would Kim Kardashian matter at all?
These are only a few of the questions answered in introversion expert, Susan Cain’s, remarkable book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking.

A Little Information About Introverts and Extroverts

According to Susan Cain 30-50% of people are introverts. Introverts are seen as contemplative souls who are sensitive to stimulation and do their most rewarding work in the familiar confines of their own minds. They are renewed by solitude and a lack of distractions. Contrary to popular belief, introverts do enjoy time with people but usually prefer small groups to large crowds. Quiet cites Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt as introverts.

Extroverts are beings of action or response.  They get energized by interaction with others and think on their feet or as they talk. John F. Kennedy or Tony Robbins are good examples of  extroverts. According to Quiet, both nature and nurture affect our temperaments.  There are certain brain pathway formations we are born with that affect temperament while our environment influences how much we are able to stretch outside our nature.

Introverts are advisors and extroverts are persuaders.  The world needs both temperaments in order to thrive.

We still live in a country where extroversion is seen as the ideal temperament but there is a quiet revolution underway.

Personality Over Character: Kim Kardashian Over Atticus Finch

According to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, what we value about ourselves shifted when we moved from a Culture of Character (duty, honor, reputation-how we behave in private) to a Culture of Personality (dominant, energetic, magnetic – how we want to be perceived).  This change in perception took place in the early 1900s.  At this time business was replacing farms and country folk were moving into the cities.  Suddenly, the solitude of rural living where the individuals we worked and socialized with were either family or life-long acquaintances, were replaced with strangers who quickly became competitors for jobs and mates. Instead of striving to maintain harmony in small communities it became necessary to stand out and fight for a place in the pecking order.

Mastery of storytelling and first impressions became more important than mining the internal for ideas, integrity and solace.  This applied to all areas of life including: work, education and love.

Private Pondering Vs. Teamwork

In Quiet we learn that over forty years of studies have proven that work performance gets worse as group size increases, yet over 70% of today’s employees work in open-plan offices and brainstorming is as common as copy machine malfunctions.

 Somewhere between cubicles and open bullpen style the introvert’s opinion regarding office layout and group dynamics was not heard.  Perhaps she was trying to read a book in her car over her lunch hour  while her cafeteria-loving co-workers took a vote and decided wide open work spaces with zero privacy were the way to go. Perhaps she gave her two cents but it was not the loudest or first response so it was deemed not as intelligent. Quiet tells us that people are often influenced by quick talkers with strong voices.

In one study involving over 600 computer programmers, top performers all came from organizations who valued privacy and personal space. The most productive companies provided  niches where employees could retreat to think and concentrate.

Nevertheless, the majority of companies promote teamwork and constant communication over individual idea generating.

I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. ~ Steve Wozniak, Apple

Extroversion and Introversion in Education

It seems our nation’s classrooms are preparing students for group projects in corporate life.  A quick peek into any elementary school classroom will reveal pods of desks and classroom-combining to encourage teamwork between both students and teachers. Like open-office plans, groupings of desks supposedly enhance social ability and productivity.  This may work for a while for kids who thrive on constant interaction and stimulation but for introverted kids this is hell. People and interruptions are draining for children with an introspective nature.  They need downtime to recharge but instead swim in a stew of noise, classmates and curriculum transitions. Not only are they expected to be academically active and enthusiastically on-task but if they show any signs of fatigue or emotional distress they are stigmatized. All of this pressure in the classroom makes me wonder if there is any correlation between chronic extroverting and the increase in special needs children in schools.

The expectation to be gregarious and above all social, is prevalent not only in primary and secondary schools but also in the most elite halls and college campuses around the country.  Susan Cain interviewed quiet Chinese student, Don Chen, on the sacred grounds of Harvard Business School. She learned that at Harvard Business School it is mandatory to project leadership, participate confidently and often in class and that social activities outside the lecture hall are just as important if not more than academic pursuits.

Professors even set up websites to help pull reticent students out of their shells because weak verbal ability reflects on the whole school.

Chen often finds himself exhausted from non-stop socializing. I go out at night like it’s my job, he says.

Neither extroverts nor introverts are more intelligent but studies show that extroverts are often seen as more brainy because they talk more and respond quicker (even if they aren’t certain of the answer).

Speak with conviction.  Even if you believe something only fifty-five percent, say it as if you believe it a hundred percent. – How to be a good class participator, Harvard Business School

Quiet: The Power of Introverts points out that many of the Wall Street firms were filled with ivy league bankers making impulsive decisions with conviction during the housing market and sub-prime loan fiasco that precipitated the 2008 market collapse. Perhaps more thoughtful advising and decision-making would have been helpful?

Where is Introversion Honored?

The United States, built out of rugged pioneers who left their safe comfortable lives to explore and establish a new country, is primarily extrovert based.  Far eastern countries with fewer immigrants are more pro-introvert.  For instance Chinese children who are sensitive and reserved are said to be dongshi (understanding), a term for praise. While Americans are all about following our bliss or celebrating our uniqueness,  Asians often work to create harmony within the group by not ruffling feathers.  While Americans score unbelievably high when rated on personal confidence, Tibetan monks find euphoria while meditating on compassion. Introversion in Asian cultures is a cultivated soft power based on quiet persistence rather than boisterous risk taking.

Introverts in Love

Introverts value intimacy.  Meaningful conversation with one or two close companions is ideal.  In love and in life introverts prefer depth to breadth.  It is not unusual for an introvert to come home from work worn out from constant stimulation (brainstorming. lunch meetings, open-plan office space) and want to relax with good food, an exquisite book and the company of their honey. This is refuel time.  If their loved one is another introvert, not much explaining is required but if their significant other is an extrovert they may have to assure them that all is well.  It’s not a rejection when they want to have downtime. Now an extrovert may see throwing a dinner party as relaxing to which the introvert may balk.  An understanding or balance of desires establishes a common ground for a mixed couple to use as their manifesto. Maybe the couple agrees to throw two dinner parties a month in order to satisfy the social extrovert.  Perhaps the extrovert agrees to leave the introvert alone for the first hour when they come home.

Another difference between the contemplative and the action oriented is the way they disagree or argue.  Introverts may cry or remain emotionally distant in order to minimize aggression (which they find unsettling). Extroverts tend to jump in with elevated voices and confrontational tactics, which to them is simply engagement. If not understood this difference in conflict resolution styles can lead to a cycle of irreparable friction.

The keys are awareness and empathy.

 It is all workable provided no one dominates to the point of smothering the other’s sense of being.  Opposites attract but they need to be aware of the other’s perspective. It does no good to take the other’s actions or lack there of as personal affronts. The two traits are different but different does not equal bad. In fact, if appropriately harnessed the combination of styles can be incredibly illuminating, a fly-on-the-wall view of how the other half lives.

How to Play Nice and Prosper

How do we make it work?  How can introverts and extroverts coexist and move the world forward?  If we allow the introvert to whisper advice and counsel the extroverts in the art of contemplation then the outgoing warriors can make good decisions before they leap into action.

Perhaps introverts will become more skillful at pseudo-extroverting.  We’ve been practicing since the early 1900s.  One sure-fire way to create energy while extroverting is to get lost in work that is meaningful.  Introverts soar when they engage in work they love.

Perhaps extroverts will step down from their valiant steeds and listen more to patient advising.  Maybe the extroverts will see the value in pausing and reflecting and sit down so that others may stand up.

Would it be so bad if we went back to a culture of character where Atticus Finches are more sought after than Kim Kardashians? I think not. On with the revolution.

Have we lost ourselves in gregariousness?  Could a re-balancing of temperaments lead to a better understanding of who we are? Would there be less unhappiness if solitude and reflection were encouraged more than self-promotion?

*Read this book, please.:) It has amazing research and incredible points regarding the benefits to the world if both introspective and action-oriented temperaments would join forces and exist on equal footing.

** For my HSP readers – Susan Cain does include a section on the correlation between introversion and high sensitivity.  She attends a retreat with sensitivity expert, Elaine Aron.

Further reading about introversion, quiet and needing space:

Hush: The Sound of Silence 

All Peopled Out

There’s Nothing Wrong With You.  You’re an Introvert. (space2live)

Introvert Relationships: Love Me or Leave Me but Please Don’t Need Me (Too Much) (space2live)

In Defense of Introverted Parents  (space2live)

What If Schools Put Character Building First and Standardized Tests Second?

Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson in 1962’s movie To Kill a Mockingbird

True excellence takes sacrifice, mistakes, and enormous amounts of effort. ~ Rafe Esquith 

What if schools focused more on each child’s character development and less on standardized tests?


Rafe Esquith author of Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire uses Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development to help his economically challenged 5th grade students become the highest beings possible.  He goes over the levels with his students on the first day of school.  He doesn’t preach. He doesn’t use fear as a motivator. He creates awareness and embodies humility.  He incorporates music, theater and travel into the curriculum – think School of Rock with Shakespearean plays added in. He spends twelve hours a day six days a week (or more) 52 weeks a year with his students. Rafe is a teacher but his goal isn’t to have the best test scores in the district.  Rafe cares deeply about the character and souls of his students AND their education. Perhaps that is why he won Oprah’s Use Your Life Award and the Compassion in Action Award from the Dalai Lama. 


Kohlberg’s Six Levels define the stages of moral growth humans go through on their way to inner wealth.


Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development


I.                   I’ll do anything to avoid trouble.  I fear punishment.

II.                Reward as motivation.  I’ll do it for a cookie or a big salary. 

III.             I’ll do anything to please someone.  Mommy is this good?

IV.              I follow the rules.  Rule #27 No independent thinkers.

V.                 I have empathy for others.  I am considerate.

VI.              I am guided from within.  I don’t need recognition to be a good person.


As I read through each level I naturally place my own children at certain stages.  I also try to figure out where I land.  I honestly think I bounce around between Levels IV, V and VI (I’ve seen the light, it’s a flicker but it’s there) with an occasional dip down to Level I (more than I like to admit).


Level I:  Fear of trouble.  Most kindergarteners have a fear of getting in trouble with the teacher.  I know at my kids’ school they have red, yellow and green cards.  Kids start each day with a green card. If a child misbehaves he is asked to take a yellow card.  If she misbehaves repeatedly she is asked to take a red card and parents are notified.  My oldest son spent kindergarten paralyzed by the almighty red card.  The first thing he told me when he got off the bus each day was who got red cards.  He had to take a yellow card twice and about lost it. Did this fear affect his schoolwork?  Yes.


Level II: Reward as motivation. We all know individuals who would sell their soul for a grape.  Toys and money are their language of love.  But they are the extreme.  Most of us just want an atta’ girl or a pat on the back.  Year end bonuses and employee of the month plaques are nice but would we do the right thing if there was no reward?


Level III: Working to please others. Even the nerdiest nerds with few material desires often work their lives away for letters behind their name or fancy certificates to hang on the wall to please well-meaning parents or an idolized mentor.  What would they do if they navigated from their own hearts?


Level IV: Here are the rules. It’s comforting to know the rules.  It’s important to have boundaries and guidelines. It’s nice to have them spelled out so there is no second guessing.  I know I’ve posted House Rules in our kitchen with the hope that our kids would read and internalize them.  They couldn’t deny them because they existed in black and white.  I thought I was being open minded when I included the kids in the creation of the rules.  But when the rules got wet or torn down because I was on to my next hippie idea, they were quickly forgotten.  They weren’t following them because they believed in them.  They were following them because they existed or because they had to.


Level V: I feel you.  I think living on this earth two or three decades makes it easier to reach this level of development.  It takes a few bumps and bruises of our own to walk in someone else’s moccasins. True Level Fivers consider others’ feelings and needs.  Imagine people who do not talk loudly on their cell phones in public places, who allow others to merge in front of them in traffic and who genuinely want to help others with their skills and products. They are openly kind and considerate.

Level VI:  I know what I must do.  It is the rare individual that reaches Level VI status.  Lee Harper’s fictional character, Atticus Finch, of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a good example.  As a white southern attorney in the 1930s, he defends an innocent black man even when the community is eager to hang the defendant and willing to cause harm to Atticus and his family.  African anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela is another Level Sixer.  They are humble, not flashy, heroes who have a code of behavior derived from within, not based on external motivation or recognition.  Do they have easy lives?  Are they revered or persecuted?


How Does This Stuff Go Over With Privileged Suburban Kids?


My husband and I sat in the living room with our three children and went over the six levels.  The poor kids, all they want is a mom who takes them to Dairy Queen and buys them cheap crap from Target, but no, sorry.


Our youngest had the most questions.  She wanted to understand and place herself.  The boys listened earnestly for a while as they remembered our family viewing of To Kill a Mockingbird.  They all could name teachers who use the fear of punishment style of teaching. They all pointed out times when we (the parents) rewarded them for behaving nicely. So Level II of us.  But then their attention dwindled. They went from slight couch slouching to faces between the cushions, bodies twitching.

I’m not sure how Rafe Esquith does it, although I suspect injecting music, theater, art and old fashioned hard work into the curriculum helps.  Even he loses faith sometimes when he gets beaten down by the system and apathy.  Most of his former students do not achieve perfect scores on their SATs or attend Juilliard but they do credit his small L.A. classroom for teaching them responsibility, trust, humility and passion for life. Rafe makes it clear that teachers, parents and students must respect each other and be willing to put forth great amounts of effort in order to be better humans, not just better mathematicians or musicians.  It is not easy and the motivation must come from within.

I’d like to think some of the character building ideas sunk in with my kids. Maybe someday I’ll catch them being an Atticus Finch when no one else is looking.  I can’t imagine a higher achievement.



Do you know anyone who has reached Level VI?  What kind of life do they lead?  Where do you fall in the stages of development?



More on consciousness development:

Are You Part of the Pecking Order or Are You Marking Your Territory?, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (meeting basic needs in order to reach the higher capabilities of creativity, consciousness and wisdom) and the Six Stages of Power by Janet Hagberg (powerless through powerful to power-free).**

More on school system alternatives and educational reform: Freedom to Learn  by Peter Gray

Related space2live posts:

15 Ways Art Saves Children from the Stupor of Standardized Tests 

More Than a Mom-Droid: Letting Children See Your Soul

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