By Meghan Durkin (VI)
Following a recommendation from a friend to my mom, and then to me, I ordered a copy of Susan Cain’s “Quiet”—and well, the rest of the title spoils its thesis, so I’ll wait on that. The book follows society’s distaste for introversion, a trait Cain notes is seen as “a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology” (Cain 4). Well, if introversion is a “pathology,” then extroversion is its cure. Society loves to love extroverts; we admire charismatic speakers and outgoing performers more than we care for quiet bookworms. Pingry too loves to praise its extroverts: if you’re not a voice in discussion, were you there at all? I love Cain’s book for its unparalleled argument against these values; the aforementioned title, a glimpse into the book that follows, ends like this: “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”
This call for extroversion begins in a fundamental place: schools. Cain begins her book with an acknowledgement of this: “at school you might have been prodded to come ‘out of shell’—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same” (6). Cain recognizes the natural incompatibility many introverted students have with school. You have to talk.
I’ve experienced many of the “come out of your shell” comments as a Pingry student. My interim reports never fail to mention that I’m “not the biggest talker” or “a dominant presence” in class; a particular favorite comment of mine is “she could benefit from getting involved even more in conversations.” Now, I do wish I was more comfortable with my status as a “quiet student,” yet it’s difficult not to see the introverted, soft-spoken part of my personality as an unshakeable weakness.
Often, what you say is greater than what you write, do, or present. Without a voice in demand of attention, your other contributions fall short. Unfortunately, not all strengths are made equal. More than ever, there’s a demand for “soft-skills.” Everyone, from friends to teachers to bosses, wants people who excel in communication and teamwork, or are confident and humorous. Our culture, and our school, admire “people skills” above everything: unfortunately, for many introverts, these skills don’t always come naturally.
Thus, here’s my take.
For students: it’s good to play to your strengths. Yes, there are benefits to stepping out of your comfort zone, but there’s validity in doing that on your own terms. If you like being quiet, be quiet. If you like to talk, then talk. Extroversion is not a trait of success, just as introversion isn’t a recipe for failure. Maybe find a little bit of both.
To Pingry teachers: forcing uncomfortable students to speak is not a reliable tool to change your “quiet” students into “talkative” ones. More often than not, it perpetuates a sense of inadequacy for a trait people are incapable of changing. Why can we only celebrate the people that lead the conversation? What about the thoughtful, attentive listeners? Or the students who bring creativity? Organization? How did we conclude loud is a far better quality than quiet? Why have Pingry teachers fostered learning environments that suit their extroverted students far more than any others?
While I often wish I could be, I am not the loudest in the room. I hate volunteering to answer questions, I don’t like raising my hand, and I don’t want to present in class. There is a constant fight circulating in my mind when I try to do so, and it’s often I fight I lose to my introversion. Though, as Susan Cain suggests in her book, introverts have something unique to offer our loud, hectic world: some quiet.