In an unusual and refreshing book review, activist (and introvert) Angela G. Colantonio gives us the skinny on Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, from the vantage point of effectively using introversion for the greater good.
Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Through the Lens of an Animal Activist
Review by Angela G. Colantonio
Would you rather spend a free night curled up in your pajamas with a good book, or out with a group of friends for dinner and karaoke? Do you find yourself noticing your phone ring and, instead of answering it, letting it go to voicemail? Do you prefer to concentrate on one project at a time so that you can thoroughly complete it, rather than multitasking? Yeah, me too.
It was on one of those nights, curled up in my PJ’s, that — perhaps not ironically — I had my nose buried in the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Crown Publishers, 2012). If you’re one of the one in three people who, like me, is an introvert, the next time you’re looking for a new book to escape into, I recommend picking this one up. Not only will you find solace in its pages, which validate the challenges of navigating your way through an extroverted world, but you may unexpectedly discover how to optimize your personality in a way that makes you a better advocate for animals.
Quiet comprehensively explores the introvert-extrovert spectrum, a continuum of personality that Cain argues can impact our lives as much as gender or race. The author quickly dispels myths that introverts are always shy, serious, and sensitive, while extroverts are always outgoing, bold, or indifferent. What it really comes down to is an individual’s response to stimulation. Introverts are over-stimulated and drained by highly social, public atmospheres, while extroverts are energized by these conditions. The carefully researched chapters document how introverts function, and how our world is designed and biased towards extroversion. Cain chronicles the history and evolution of the “Extrovert Ideal” and the “New Groupthink.” Additionally, she highlights contributions of famous figures in history, both introverts and extroverts, and what we can learn from their actions, choices, and partnerships. Cain exposes the drawbacks of open office plans, and takes time to explain the genetics, psychology, and neuroscience underlying introversion, so that even to the non-scientist, the mechanics of personality become clear. She throws herself into uncomfortable extroverted events and venues, including a Tony Robbins presentation, the halls of Harvard Business School, and even an evangelical megachurch. Finally, Cain asks, how are introversion and extroversion affected by other cultural norms?
The chapters of Quiet provide refuge for introverts, but are equally informative for extrovert partners and companions. As pointed out in the Our Hen House podcast review of Quiet, this book is not anti-extrovert. It fosters a greater understanding of all colors of personalities along the introvert-extrovert spectrum, through careful research and personal experiences. The book concludes with valuable insights into how introverts and extroverts can communicate, coexist, and often help each other to flourish.
What I found most attention-grabbing about this book, from the perspective of an animal activist, was the realization that many attributes that characterize introverts — non-conformity, sensitivity to injustice and irresponsibility, internalization of guilt and sorrow, empathy, being easily disturbed by violence and cruelty — align well with the traits that incline individuals to sympathize with animals and effectively advocate for them.
First, as Cain points out, introverts express their opinions best through writing, which allows them to excel in new spheres of social media. Introverts have the natural skills to become leaders in virtual conversations through Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. Introvert animal activists would do well to seek online platforms to be a written voice for animals.
Introverts also tend to delay gratification or reward and are not characteristically pursuers of fame and fortune. Countless individuals volunteer their time, money, and skills to promote veganism, defend animal rights, and encourage others to join the movement, recognizing that every little thing we do, every small change, helps make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Introverts are particularly adept at staying dedicated to a grassroots movement, which doesn’t always promise immediate rewards or grand victories, and being satisfied and motivated by smaller triumphs. While tirelessly working for this worthy cause, it doesn’t hurt that introverts function well on little sleep.
Many activists in the vegan community are familiar with Gandhi’s philosophy of ahimsa, or non-violence. Cain also applies Gandhi’s principle of satyagraha, which means “firmness in pursuit of truth.” As also mentioned in the podcast review, by Our Hen House’s co-founder, Mariann Sullivan – a proud introvert – it is this quality that allows introverts to be driven by their passion for a cause, to speak up and act out, even in situations that produce anxiety and discomfort.
All of these worthy attributes that make introverts particularly good activists should be fostered in young children, not suppressed and stigmatized by our extroverted nation. Cain relays the “orchid hypothesis,” which asserts that introverts may wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and thrive. Introverted youths are predisposed to a vegan lifestyle and therefore we have a duty to encourage these sensitive souls to develop their empathy for animals as they grow into young activists.
I can think of a no better example of this than Mia, the 3rd grader recently featured on Our Hen House’s blog, who was sensitive and thoughtful enough to write a letter to her teacher asking to be excused from a class outing to the zoo. I applaud Mia’s teacher for not quelling her voice, encouraging her to share her view with the class, and allowing this budding activist to blossom.
Cain’s goal is to help people discover a new sense of entitlement to be true to their personality and preferences. I definitely had many lightbulb moments while reading Quiet as I acknowledged and accepted my introverted habits. My experience with this book was further brightened through the realization that my quiet nature and introspective personality don’t hold me back from expressing myself on behalf of animals, but actually give me an advantage.
We should not be ashamed of our introversion. Instead, we should harness our quiet persistence and soft power for good. Introverts and extroverts need to combine our complementary skills to change the world for animals.
Still not sure if you’re an introvert, extrovert or an in-between ambivert (yes, there is such a thing)? Take the Quiet Quiz.
Angela G. Colantonio is a graduate student earning her Master in Public Health with the hopes of helping improve the health of people and the environment through a plant-based diet and lifestyle. She currently works as a research assistant for studies investigating childhood obesity prevention and food insecurity. In her free time, Angela, a vegan of two and a half years, enjoys absorbing as much information on veganism as she can through books and blogs, volunteering for local organizations that promote public health and animal welfare, and sharing time with her beloved companion animals – Nella, a poodle, three happy hens, and a trio of rabbits.