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A manifesto for introverts who have usually been at the receiving end.
Back in 1921, influential psychologist Carl Jung wrote a book called Psychological Types, which became something of a sensation. In it he pressed the case for recognising two crucial building blocks of personality: extroversion and introversion. Extroverts are outgoing, they like to socialise, plunge into events. Introverts are reflective, prefer the world of inner ideas and feelings, like to observe events without participating. History and literature are full of instances of both kinds. Susan Cain shows how, at least in the US, the twentieth century saw the denigration of introverts and glorification of the extrovert. She traces the early advertisements that sold everything from soaps to lingerie assuring that the buyers would feel confident and be able to look people in the eye. Then arose the Dale Carnegie-led phenomenon of confident public speaking, and "influencing people", so essential for selling stuff. Schools for "personality development" and confidence building sprung up. Self-help books promising to make you into some kind of superconfident god were sold in the millions. Schools, and parents, hammered away at kids to weed out any sense of shyness, hesitation or preference for solitude. The culture of personality became the cornerstone of society, and extroversion became its ideal. Remember, there was no 24x7 satellite TV to bombard you with commercials. Salesmen had to go out there and convince people to buy things.
So, introverts became second class citizens, like women, says Cain. Some studies have estimated that the number of introverts in the US would range between 30 to 50 per cent. That is, every one in two or three people is introverted. So, the social � CORBIS bias against introversion exacts a huge toll, and oppresses not a few in number. Something has to give somewhere.
What happens is that many introverts start pretending to be extroverted, copying the behaviour of true-blue extroverts. They go about confidently socialising and partying, shooting their mouths off and generally behaving in a way which is painful to themselves.
Susan Cain persuades us with this wellresearched and argued hypothesis, bolstered by scientific studies and visits to a range of confidence-building institutions which include attending an $895-session with Tony Robbins, whose slogan is 'UNLEASH THE POWER WITHIN', and a visit to Harvard Business School, which could be called the Temple of extroversion. It is here that she finds that doing everything as a team, socialising endlessly, being the first to give an opinion (right or wrong), and other such qualities of charismatic corporate honchos are preached and inculcated mercilessly. However, Quiet travels far beyond this. As you read the book you sense a manifesto-like quality slowly seeping in. All the famous introverts are listed and referred to - from Einstein to Fredric Chopin, from Yeats to Rowling. Soft power is described in hard-sell terms. And, perhaps fatally, the very definition of introversion is broadened to include virtually everything that is not loud and gross. Perhaps the biggest surrender that the book makes is its blind acceptance of the corporate world as the only real world. Cain herself went to HBS and was a corporate lawyer till she decided to quit and sit at home, write books and generally do whatever introverts like to do. But she has not gotten over her previous life. Her style is like that of the very self-help books that she castigates. Her subjects and examples are only from that world. This doesn't take away from the fact that the dominant ideal in the US is the extrovert, and it flows from where power flows - the corporate, political and mass entertainment worlds. But what about scientists, academics and mothers in small-town America? In the end, what is a very valuable social analysis, remains incomplete, cluttered and swamped in chaff. One last word about non-American societies. Cain admits upfront that other societies like China do not have this problem of the Extrovert Ideal. She hints that others too have a different paradigm. In fact she calls Cupertino, California, as the introvert capital because of its high Asian population. But that's it. Her argument would have achieved far more traction had she even cursorily dared to investigate other societies, including China and India, if not pre-industrial societies.
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