[ 4 minutes to read ]
Overall good book. I had a few places of disagreement but those areas didn’t interfere with the core value of the book. So, that’s all I will say about that.
If you come to this book waiting on a climactic, silver bullet point, you will be disappointed. That’s not the fault of the book or author. It’s more a function of us washed masses expecting too much from psychology. Generally, psychology is adept at observing what is happening, classifying and categorizing, and identifying similarities and tendencies. Divergence then begins when trying to explain the “why” of what’s happening, whether it’s right or good, and what should or should not be happening? Treatments, therapies, and opinions are a real mixed multitude at that point.
There are two problems with this that we need to careful of. One is turning psychological categories into a born-this-way rationalization for inappropriate or unacceptable behavior. Depraved as we are, we love to have excuses for our actions. “That’s just the way I am,” is not a justification for doing things wrong, unloving, and even harmful. We already rationalize our behavior in our minds and we love to get a second self-helping to harden our consciences even further.
However, identifying personal tendencies can be helpful. Being that we are all sinful, one personality type tends to sin one way, while a different type tends to sin in another way. It also reveals how different types tend to do good.
The second problem is that psychological categories are not an always-reliable predictor of an individual’s behavior. It’s easy to read a book on personality types or temperaments, analyze those around you, and then expect this or that from them. The problem here is that it’s just not that simple. It’s not as simple as determining that you are an introvert or extrovert and so you will always do this or that. There are many more contributing factors and each person really is a unique blend of genetics, environment, past experiences, education, socialization, intellect, talents, personality, emotions, et al. While there may be identifiable similarities and tendencies, there are no completely identical people.
Susan Cain demonstrates this well in this book. She does a good job of using a number of different studies and theories, drawing some of her own conclusions, and illustrating with real-life examples. The number of different studies she refers to gives us an idea of the complexity of the issue. So while we might deal with introversion and extroversion broadly, there are varying degrees of each and other factors that influence behavior.
Early in the book, she describes the western society extrovert ideal and you immediately know what she is talking about. Our society in general idealizes the extrovert, the charismatic personality, the outgoing socializer, the life of the party, etc. We have set this personality up as the most desirable and exert enormous pressure on individuals to measure up. Those who don’t are pushed, shamed, pressured, ridiculed, isolated, and even publicly humiliated. Most of us quiet types know the pain, particularly in childhood, of being told constantly we should be more like Joe and Suzy Social, or that we are shy, backward, antisocial, rude, and sometimes even stupid for being quiet.
The extrovert ideal permeates our society. Business hires and promotions are often decided by it. Elections are often won or lost by it. Education theory is built around it. The influences of the extrovert ideal on education theory is actually quite fascinating. It is another instance where you see it immediately once Cain describes it. It was a Chestertonian moment where Father Brown gets the right answer because he questions the assumptions that everyone is making. I’m afraid far too many of us make the extrovert-ideal assumption.
This brings us to the subtitle and really the main aim of the book. Susan Cain doesn’t hide her own personal tendencies to quietness. Her aim is to show the value and benefits of introversion where everyone assumes it is undesirable and a liability.
She highlights some areas where differences can be problematic, e.g. husband-wife relationships, and parent-child relationships. It really can be challenging when one spouse is introverted and the other extroverted, or where parents may be extroverted and their child introverted. This book can be helpful to both sides in understanding one another and possibly alleviating some fears or conflicts.
I do recommend this book as helpful in all different kinds of relationships where one type of person is relating to another type. It can be helpful in understanding and loving different people in your life. I do want to caution you along the line of the two problems I mentioned earlier. Let me explain this caution in the framework of the husband-wife relationship.
The Bible clearly commands us to love our spouse. I love the way Paul speaks of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. He writes for every man to have his own wife and every woman to have her own husband. Having your own wife or your own husband means you are also commanded to love your own wife or your own husband. You are commanded to love your own spouse, not the statistical average spouse, not the ideal spouse, but your own flesh-and-blood spouse. You must love the one you married.
The two problems mentioned above can wreak havoc in this relationship. On the one hand, you can rationalize “the way you are” as an excuse for being unloving to your spouse in some particular way. On the other hand, you can place unreasonable demands and expectations on your spouse because they are this way or that way. Generalizing I am, but I hope you get the point.