Friday, June 8, 2012

Ramblings about Quiet

As mentioned in my previous post, I just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I enjoyed it so very much that I kept calling Mom to share my latest discoveries...and I really don't want to take it back to the library.  I know that this book as made the rounds of blogs and LiveJournals, but I want to jot down some of the sections that really meant a lot to me.  (It's safe to say that I gleaned something out of each well-written chapter, but why write out the entire book?  Go read it yourself!)

 First off, I loved how the author chose to define introversion and extroversion based on an individual's tolerance of social and sensory stimulation.  Being introverted doesn't mean that you don't like people, or that you hate going to parties, or that you would always rather be reading a book.  It does mean, however, that you have a lower tolerance for social and sensory stimulation - so going to a party or hanging out with a bunch of loud people might make you feel mentally "fried."  This is so characteristic of my growing up in a large and loud family: I just physically couldn't take it after a while.  I would have to go to my room and sit in the quiet before I could interact without feeling completely frazzled.  The same thing happens nearly every day as I parent Harriet.  Because I'm introverted, the constant go-go-go of parenting Harriet, her constant conversation and need for interaction seriously grates on my nerves after a while.  This doesn't mean that I don't like parenting or that Harriet is obnoxious.  It's just that the stimulation is too much.

Introverts...may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas.  They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family.  They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.  They tend to dislike conflict.  Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions. (p.11)
 I have often felt guilty because I can honestly say that hanging out with people in groups is not my idea of a relaxing time.  Take MOPS for example.  It's touted as being this place to re-charge with your girlfriends and get away from the kids.  That's great...if you can feel recharged after attending.  I don't.  I feel tired and like I want snuggle up with a book.  That's the introverted aspect of my personality saying, "HEY!  Too much stimulation!  Time to regroup!"  Does that mean that I don't go to MOPS?  No.  Does that mean that I don't like people?  No. I like getting to know the other moms in one-on-one conversations.  Do I need to feel guilty because I don't get re-charged from social situations?  Certainly not.  
Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation. (p. 74)
This is so true of me.  I totally prefer to work alone on a project, primarily because I'm able to completely focus all of my creative energy to the task at hand.

The chapter on highly sensitive introverted personalities (I consider myself to be in this sub-category) was particularly interesting.
The other thing Aron found about sensitive people is that sometimes they're empathic.  It's as if they have thinner boundaries separating them from other people's emotions and from the tragedies and cruelties of the world.  They tend to have unusually strong consciences.  They avoid violent movies and TV shows; they're acutely aware of the consequences of a lapse in their own behavior.  In social settings they often focus on subjects like personal problems, which others consider to be too heavy.
YES!  The whole part about skipping violent movies and TV shows makes complete sense now.  Some people just aren't as sensitive to them - and that doesn't make them horrible people, just like avoiding violence doesn't make me a wuss.  It's just a different personality make-up.
In most settings, people use small talk as a way of relaxing into a new relationship, and only once their comfortable do they connect more seriously.  Sensitive people seem to do the reverse.  They "enjoy small talk only after they've gone deep," says Strickland.  "When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chit-chat just as much as anyone else.
 One big hearty AMEN for that paragraph, thank you very much.  As I read this, I though, "Aha!  This is why Steve and I got along so well with long-distance dating!"  Because we are both introverts, it worked so very well for us to express ourselves in writing and, in doing so, to be able to jump right in to really deep topics without the pressure of being face-to-face (our first email exchange dealt with the Christian's attitude towards small talk there).  With a foundation of deep subjects under us, I felt very comfortable making lighter conversation with him as the relationship developed.

This dynamic is the same for each person that I would consider part of my circle of close friends.  After initial introductions, I was eager to move deeper and connect with them on a meaningful level.  It was only after this occurred that I felt comfortable being chatty or silly around them.

The final chapters of the book discuss when an introvert should stretch the elastic of their personality type and venture into more extroverted realms.  I appreciated her idea of setting personal goals ("The Free Trait Agreement") for being more extroverted when situations arise - like church fellowship times, in my experience.  Instead of feeling a) overwhelmed by the situation or b) guilty for not being the liveliest one in the crowd, decide what goal you will reach and then leave it at that.  For me it may be shaking the hands of two or three people instead of clinging to my pew during a meet-and-greet time.  It doesn't mean that I have to run around the sanctuary trying to greet everyone.

The author also mentioned the vital importance of creating a restorative niche in an introvert's daily routine.  This can be any length of time that is perfectly devoid of the social and sensory stimulus that can send an introvert into the Cliffs of Insanity or it can be a personal interest or activity that restores the energy of the individual.  I implemented this idea this week when I realized that I was always super-cranky when Steve went to work each afternoon.  I felt like running as fast as I could from the children and the house and all of the noise.  Why?  I was choosing to spend naptime running about cleaning and doing laundry and cooking.  I was not taking the time to get restored before the chaos resumed.  So, I have been taking a good thirty minutes to an hour out of each naptime to read, catch up on emails, or just sit in the quiet.  It has worked wonders, people.  Wonders.  I feel consistently energized to resume my tasks and I don't feel like tranquilizing the small people.

There you go: some brief, disjointed thoughts on Quiet and why I benefited from reading it.  I might note that while the book is secular, the author has Jewish roots so she is not against the idea of religion and does not assume an aggressive (or obnoxious) anti-faith position.  That was nice.  It was also interesting to think about what she was saying from a secular view and apply my Christian worldview.  It made me think, "How is God sanctifying my introverted personality?"  "How can I use the specific personality that He has given me to better serve His Body?"

(Also, check out this post for more interesting discussion on introverts in the church.  It's good stuff.)

So what do you think?