One-third to one-half of Americans are introverts, according to Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. And yet, we’ve been led to believe that what is “normal” in American culture is to be loud, to be social, to be, in a word, extroverted.
How did this happen?
Cain shows us, outlining the historical shift from a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality,” where others’ perceptions trump (no pun intended) personal behavior.
The fallout from this social narrative is the “myth of the charismatic leader,” Cain notes, whose followers honor fast talkers over quiet, shy ones, and where collaboration is valued over solitary thinking.
It’s the age old “tension of the opposites,” as Jungians call it, where yin wrestles with yang. And yang is winning.
That’s a shame, Cain says in so many words, because introverts are the thinkers, artists and engineers who shape culture at a deep level. They include Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, W. B. Yeats, George Orwell, Steven Spielberg and J.K. Rowling.
But cultural norms are only stories spun over time and repeated so often we perceive them as “truth.” The task then is to name the fiction, dismantle what is false to fact and write a new one.
This demands that introverts play the game differently. Stand up for who and how you are, “pretend extroversion” where necessary, and lead your own personal “quiet revolution,” notes Cain. (If you’re unsure if you’re an introvert, you can take Cain’s test here.)