Reading Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet’ has jolted to my understanding of what it means to be introverted and/or extroverted.
I’m not all the way through it yet, but I have a real sense that her project on personality, which is written like an academic text, has deep value for ministry and pastoral theology in general.
A particular area of interest for me was that in at least one University in America, based on her observation and research, if you failed to create a significant social network, the assumption was that you had by default, also failed your degree[i]. That is even if you had met the required mark for successful completion of that degree.
I wondered at the implications for students who spend a considerable amount of their learning via the internet, because the infrastructure is geared towards the individual achievement, not so much on how much that community likes you; or worse is pleased with you.
One of the most pressing questions this raised for me was: Does the lack of “physical-networking” factor into to the overall reality of success and holistic achievement?
Cain infers that there are forces at work within society who seek to turn introverts into extroverts. For instance: A higher value is placed on charisma, smile, popularity and the ability to sell-beyond all borders anything, anywhere at any time, whilst still maintaining healthy energy levels and close, well-founded, mutually beneficial relationships.
This uncovers somewhat of a contradiction between what some in academia promise and what reality actually delivers. The former promotes education as the means to opportunity, barely acknowledging the fact that money and status are really the things which feed opportunity. The reality is that when it comes to opportunity, what you might know is superseded by where you stand financially and who you know (or, rather who knows and likes you) socially.
If what Cain has identified is accurately represented across the board, the truth is that money and status are what bring opportunity, education is only a framework for gaining social advantage.
This opens a can of worms for the variables in social networking. Some of which can be very fickle. Cain’s research essentially implies that if a person is not well liked then they will not be well connected or be well supplied with the same equal opportunities as, say someone (the probability is that this person will be an extrovert) who has won over hearts with charm and a loud personality. Although, on balance, Cain does point out that smoke and mirrors can only last so long before the truth wins out.
Therefore the implications for introverts are not all negative. For instance, Cain asserts:
‘while introverts have trouble projecting artificial enthusiasm…it is not a bad thing because this inflexibility can motivate an introvert to speak from their convictions’[ii]
Cain then moves on to make some heavy assertions in order to reinforce her point, stating that enough evidence exists to suggest that if the introverts in well supply on Wall Street at the time before the Global Financial Crisis had been listened to, the G.F.C may have been avoided[iii].
There are numerous amounts of key phrases, examples of studies and key words that make this reading a high calibre resource.
Things like “reward sensitivity”, “high reactivity”, “high sensitivity”, “the extrovert ideal”, “over stimulation”, “under stimulation” and the value, for introverts, in finding a “sweet spot” i.e.: finding balance between energy drain and energy gain; knowing when to put the book down and head out to a cafe with a friend, and then when to exit gracefully. Recharged and ready.
For now it’s raising a lot of questions about how the church can improve the care of Pastors and that of the community.
Considering all the micro and macro concerns about how various parts of the church have failed (some catastrophically) in its duty of care, Cain is one researcher the church community should be listening to within reason. Granted there has been a lot of reading where I have had to push through, such as her use of Al Gore and his “Global Warming/Climate change” evangelism (“campaign”) [iv], and the findings of evolutionary biologists. Nothing against either of these groups, it’s just that both are scientific areas where I consider myself an agnostic, primarily due to the variables in their conclusions and the militant, political-ideological threads associated with both.
I’ll put together some more thoughts on this once I complete it.
[i] Cain, S 2012 Quiet: The Power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking Penguin Group, p.47
[ii] ibid, p.129
[iii] Ibid, p.155 (Chapter Seven covers this at length providing a very interesting hypothesis on the reasons for the event)
[iv] ibid, p.149