Book Club, Week 5: Chapter 5 of Quiet

December 11, 2012

“We can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead… We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.”

Chapter 5 of Quiet is one of the most succinct in the book, but this is one of the illustrations that has really stuck with me since I read it. When I’m in stressful social situations — those situations where my frontal neocortex is at war with my amygdala — I picture myself as a rubber band being stretched, and I actually find it rather comforting. It’s okay that the situation feels like it’s stretching me, because it is.

A couple of years ago, I read A General Theory of Love, and it also touches on the limbic and cortical brains and the interplay between the two. The authors explain the neocortex in similar language to Cain:

The neocortical brain does not produce emotionality, [but] it does have a role in modulating feelings and integrating them with some its own functions.

This is how Sally, Alison, Esther, and even Susan Cain herself have come to adapt themselves to everything from public speaking engagements to busy parties. As Cain writes, “there’s a split second that feels like I’m stepping onto a high wire… [but] I’ve learned that the high wire is a figment of my imagination.”

What are some of your stepping-onto-a-high-wire moments? Is there anything specific that you do to coach yourself through those situations, or has it become automatic?


Book Club, Week 4: Chapter 4 of Quiet

December 4, 2012

Susan Cain opens chapter 4 with a bold question: Is temperament destiny? She then goes on to discuss reactivity in infants and children and its relationship to introversion.

In the past, I’ve read a bit about reactivity in the context of high sensitivity (which Cain discusses in chapter 6) — and reactivity is always of interest to me. It is the one characteristic of HSPs (and, now, introverts) that I don’t manifest. When my mom read Quiet, we discussed this chapter quite a bit because, per all historical reports, neither of us were high-reactive babies or kids and yet we’re both introverts now. Not only that, I can remember thinking and feeling very deeply about ordinary everyday events as a child, and that’s more typical of the high-reactive — but I wasn’t overly excited by the unfamiliar. I always say that I just don’t have the “stimuli-based sensitivity” — for example, I can work for hours in a busy cafe, with the television on in the background, or in a room where people are having boisterous conversations — but that raises the question: Is my introversion nurture, not nature?

It’s not simply A or B

Kagan put it best in his interview with Cain:

Every behavior has more than one cause. Don’t ever forget that! …It’s really important that you see, for behaviors… there are many routes to that.

Chances are, our introversion is not 100% nature or 100% nurture (or even close). This seems obvious — and yet we all like simple “if this, then that” cause-and-effect relationships, and the interplay of nature and nurture introduces a lot of ambiguity. We can’t, as Cain says, “reduce an introverted or extroverted personality to the nervous system its owner was born with.”

How do you see the interaction between nature and nurture in your introversion (or extroversion)? Are there any experiences in your life that you believe contributed to your temperament as an adult?

Free will and what we choose

Given this interaction, Cain shifts the question to “how your inborn temperament interacts with the environment and with your own free will.” In other words, reactivity may not an introvert make — but a high-reactive child (and adult) is more likely to seek experiences that reinforce introverted qualities. Cain also touches on the importance of role models and environment when one is growing up; if temperament influences the activities we choose, it follows that the activities available to us are important. And furthermore, the parenting we receive is vital in determining whether our reactivity is an advantage or a hinderance.

What are some examples of experiences that you believe you chose because it reinforced your natural temperament or traits?

Now what?

Next week, we’ll dive into chapter 5 — the companion to chapter 4 — and answer that very question. We have the biology we have, for better or worse — and our childhoods were what they were. Can we now change our own destiny?

Book club hiatus

November 8, 2012

These last three weeks of book club conversation have been such a delight. I cannot even tell you how much and how deeply I have appreciated and enjoyed your transparency, openness, and insight.

As many of you know, I lost my father to cancer last week. I have set aside this time for my family, as we both grieve this loss and make plans for the future.

Especially given the rather analytical and emotional nature of Quiet, I’ve decided to suspend our club meetings until the first week in December. Please join us again on Tuesday, December 4 as we explore chapter 4. I look forward to picking up our conversation then.

Until then, we’re still doing Instagratitude, and I’ll be poking around from time to time on Facebook. See you there!