My physiotherapist – an introvert – recommended this book to me. I see her twice a week (mostly) and I love her, so I took on reading non-fiction (gross) so that I could tell her about what I thought in one of our many sessions attempting to fix my [unfixable?] feet. This desire to talk-books is, most often, why I read books recommended: I want to read the thing that is important to the people I care about so that I can share it with them, talk to them about it, compare notes. (The exceptions, of course, are when N. or my mum recommend books. I trust their judgement implicitly. Though I’m stumbling my way through Gravity’s Rainbow right now in ways that make me think N. might be wrong for the first time ever. I suspend judgement.).
Right. Enough on books recommended (though I do extend the offer again to tell me what I should read and why) and more on Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I was telling my friend M. that I was reading Cain’s book and that on reading it I’d come to think that I might be an introvert. She laughed at me and told me that anyone who reads as much as I do has to be an introvert. Having finished the book I’m not more certain of “what” I am, though more sure of the circumstances that make me more and less likely to behave as if I am an introvert. Certainly more ideas about how I might approach the idea of introverts in my classrooms (more on that in a minute).
What I liked about Cain’s book is the way she allows that people cannot be reduced to a personality trait. That in particular situations we can behave and act in whatever way the context requires. We might just have a preference or an inclination one way or another. The idea of how introverts and extroverts gain energy – time alone and time with others, respectively – also resonated. Her message that our cultural preference for extroverts has reduced introverted behaviours to shameful or apologetic activities also appealed to me on an instinctual level “you’re right! I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for wanting to stay home and read in the tub on a Friday night!” Though I’m suspicious of the science – or at least her presentation of the science – which was as more anecdotal than it was peer reviewed.
But here’s the thing with such books – people read them (and boy are they reading this one) because it explains something people feel. There’s a difference among people – the people person, the shy one, the whatever – and that such an argument presents a comforting explanation for when things don’t go the way we wanted or anticipated “well of course she didn’t hire me, I’m an introvert.” These sort of pat assurances reduce our sense of ourselves to a predetermined or unimpeachable excuse. Cain does make useful distinctions among introvert, shy and sensitive that were refreshing and nuanced. She, too, takes care to argue that being an introvert provides great benefit. But I’m wary of the explanatory power of such books. That students – or others – will explain away their behaviour – of their lack of acting – because “I’m an introvert.” Like learning styles (no actual evidence for learning styles, btw) the idea of introvert-extrovert can be taken to an extreme where it forgets that there are circumstances wherein reflection is required – and everyone should learn how to do it – just as there are circumstances where being engaged with other people (ew) is required – and everyone should learn how to do it.
All this to say the book was helpful in making sense of some of my partner, S. (an clear Cain introvert)’s behaviours. Just as it was helpful in thinking about incorporating more taught-reflection and taught-introspection into my classes. I’m just wary of grand declarations of who we are that explain away behaviour that really does deserve – an introverted! – consideration.