Susan Cain opens Quiet with the story of Rosa Parks. Like Cain, I too always pictured Parks as a brassy, bold person, both in demeanor and physical stature. But Cain writes:
[Obituaries written after her death] said she was “timid and shy” but had “the courage of a lion.” They were full of phrases like “radical humility” and “quiet fortitude.”
On the very next page, she draws a contrast with our modern cultural ideals — what she later dubs as the Culture of Personality.
Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts.
That leads me to my first question for all of you: Do you feel a societal pressure to be bold and sociable? If so, what does that look like? I’m also curious about the non-American perspective. If you currently reside in (or hail from) another nation, do you perceive the American ideal as one of extroversion? Is this uniquely American or does it cross over into other cultures?
The Extrovert Ideal
On page four, Cain writes that introversion “is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” This hit home for me. How often has my reticence been misconstrued as something else? How many people told me, especially in my youth, that I should be more talkative and outgoing? How often do I reflect on how I’m too quiet for this or that? As Cain astutely discusses, this becomes a track that plays on repeat in your mind. And yet many of these judgments of introversion are completely inaccurate. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy; as the book explores more in depth in later chapters, they may have strong social skills and enjoy social gatherings.
Have you seen the Extrovert Ideal touted in your family, workplace, or social circles? Do you feel like your quiet tendencies are automatically labeled or received as something else altogether?
From Culture of Character to Culture of Personality
This is easily one of my favorite sections of the entire book, because it gives words to something that I’ve often read about and discussed with others. As I read this, I found myself mourning the loss of the Culture of Character. More than that, I mourned the shift in perception around things like duty and reputation. Several years ago, I read an article about how women are no longer pursuing men of character, and it’s no surprise when traits that were once admired are now seen as irrelevant at best and dull or distasteful at worst. Who wants to be known for having a strong sense of duty when you could be known for being magnetic? Even as someone who assigns a high value to character, I find myself drawn to Dale Carnegie’s guide words. It’s because the Culture of Personality tells me that those are the things I need — those are the things that will attract others and make me successful. As Cain writes:
The Extrovert Ideal is not a modern invention… We can also trade our admiration of extroverts to the Greeks, and to the Romans… [But] the rise of the Culture of Personality intensified such biases.
How do you feel about the cultural shift from character to personality? What are the dangers? The benefits?
The best part of a book club is hearing from everyone else. So, tell me: In the introduction and first chapter, what grabbed your attention? What new insights did you glean? What didn’t you agree with? What questions did the author raise for you?