Friday, 19 April 2013

Quiet by Susan Cain

Okay, yes, there's a subtitle, but it's too long to put in the subject line. It's "The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking."

There's a real pleasure in recognition. Hearing about yourself, finding out you're not alone, it can be a huge relief and release. And so, as a long-time (although fairly gregarious) introvert, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Not much of it was truly surprising, but still, it's nice to read a book that validates the way I tend to operate anyway.

And the section on over- and under-stimulation I found very useful. Having just come off of a very overstimulated week, I'm enjoying cocooning at home and doing some editing this week. The way she presented it gave me some good ideas for trying to build in moments of quiet. And to better understand why, when I've been at a conference all day, sometimes I can't stand the thought of being around another person and avoid the social events to take myself out for supper with a book.

None of this was revolutionary, but it was presented in such a way that was very helpful.

Similarly, her section on workspaces was really excellent. And by excellent, I mean I identified so strongly with every bit of it. It let me think about the various places I've worked, and which ones made me very stressed - and that was often half because I had a boss who was unpleasant to work for, and half because the open concept workspace made me jumpy and overstimulated.

On the other hand, she does tend to conflate introversion with high reactivity. I'm both, so I enjoyed it, but it does sometimes tend to steer this book away from being about introversion, and towards high sensitivity to external stimuli. The correlation isn't known - she points out that while 70% of people who are high reactive are introverts, no corresponding study has been done to see how many introverts are high reactive.

So, for a couple of chapters, we drifted away from introversion to high reactivity-presented-as-though-it-were-synonymous-with-introversion, although she had acknowledged we don't really know that yet.

In that section, I was most struck by something I hadn't heard about highly sensitive people - how much their later mental health depends on parenting. Makes me want to call my Mom and thank her (again!) for how she and Dad raised me.

I don't know how much all this science holds up - I'm not really qualified to judge. But much of it resonated with my personal experience, and that always inclines me to like a book. It's not one I need to own, or read again, but it was a validating read.

I'd be interested to see what the reactions of introverted readers of this book were compared to the reactions of extroverted readers.

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