Can everyone just shut up please?

madonna shhhh‘Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a centre. So we lost our centre and have to find it again’ Anaïs Nin

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (first published in January 2012) came out in paperback last month and went straight into the non-fiction top 10 – a fact which says something about the current zeitgeist – even if the book itself is gently saying shhhhhhh. Perhaps it’s time for the extrovert backlash?

I was put off self-help/discovery titles of any description by being accidentally and unwillingly immersed in them during my first job after university, and since then I have a long-held fear of anything that might sit in that section of the bookshop shouting helpful and impossible self-improvement headlines at me. The title of this one intrigued me though, because (I confess) I have always been a bit quiet myself… it was whispering to me ‘HEY, let me change your life’. I tucked it into my Kindle and brought it away on holiday with me.

Quiet is a manifesto for introverted souls, for anyone who doesn’t fit the curricula, the boxes, the workplace cultures that Susan argues have been popularised over the past hundred years. She argues that the ideal of being (or appearing to be) in western societies has become the extrovert way and contrasts the brash, charismatic stylist (say Madonna) with the studious, sensitive and thoughtful type (say JK Rowling).

Susan’s a New Yorker and not all of her arguments and case studies will be relevant to every reader, or indeed to a British audience (e.g. I don’t know much about how primary school-aged children are taught these days – you might), but she guides you through each chapter with reassurances that it’s not all about you, personally (there are many different kinds of introvert and she makes her definitions clear in the book). In fact, one of the most powerful things you can take away from it is the realisation that you shouldn’t try to be like anyone else at all. Which is perhaps the most obvious thing I’ve ever written, but then this book made everything seem a lot clearer. And also – it’s good to be reminded of what your angry teenage self knew all along: it’s not you that’s wrong, it’s everyone else.*

I’d recommend spending nineteen minutes watching Cain’s TED talk (whether you think you’re extro or intro) which sums it all up neatly – her motivations for writing the book, how our world became so extroverted and the case for her introvert manifesto. Here’s the video:

*haha, joking

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Co-editor and co-founder of Pamflet //

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