When I was a kid, I was so quiet that people regularly mistook me for deaf, mute, or a non-English speaker.
In 2012, a woman named Susan Cain wrote a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. For a while, it seemed like this book was everywhere, which was ironic, given how extroverted an author has to be to market a book that successfully.
Despite the intense marketing of Quiet, I didn’t crack it open until this year. About a third of the way in, I cracked it shut, again. It was so aggressively pro-introvert that it was borderline extrovert shaming, plus there was also a lot of stuff in there that I found dubious, most of which I won’t mention.
The last straw for me was her misrepresentation of the word “Connectors” from Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Gladwell uses two criteria to define Connectors.
First, they have 4 or 5 times as many friends and acquaintances as the average person (he did multiple surveys to identify this trend). Second, they tend to be only a few steps (like in the game “Six degrees from Kevin Bacon”) from almost everyone because their interests are diverse. Gladwell writes, “for one reason or another, they manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches.”
Because of their versatility, they cross-pollinate ideas between spheres, and because they know so many people, the ideas spread faster (the ideas aren’t necessarily their own, they pass them along).
Connectors are trend setters, cause tipping points, and were always extroverts before technology made it possible for an introverts to gain large social media followings.
Cain co-opts the word Connector to claim that the guy who started Craig’s List is the ultimate Connector because he created a website that allows people to connect with each other, which is like crediting the guy who invented flea markets for your marriage because you met your wife at a swap meet. I’m sure the swap meet helped, but you probably had more to do with that connection than he did.
Also, a person could make that same claim about any app or website that allows its users to interact. Why focus on Craig? I didn’t find that part especially dubious, just weird.
In the years after Quiet came out, my newsfeeds became flooded with pro-introvert memes. It was suddenly cool to cancel plans, ignore messages, and hide under the covers if someone knocked on the door.
Pretty soon, it was acceptable to commit any social crime as long as it was passive enough to be called introversion.
I understand that we all need to protect ourselves from interactions that drain us. I’ve been there. I’ve absolutely needed to cancel plans and have been relieved to have someone cancel on me. I spent years hesitant to make any plans, at all, because I wasn’t sure I could keep them.
Even on my best days, my tolerance for human interaction was barely out of the negative numbers, so I understand the temptation to use introversion as an excuse to shrug off all social responsibility. But, that behavior isn’t healthy, even for someone as introverted as I am, and I knew it, because no amount of isolation healed me enough to move me forward.
In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown writes:
...as members of a social species, we don’t derive strength from our rugged individualism, but rather from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together. Our neural, hormonal, and genetic makeup support interdependence over independence.
But, if we derive so much fulfillment from connection, why did I find it so draining?
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown writes:
Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
I was so drained was because I didn’t create space for my authentic self in situations where I needed that space. I hid because I figured people wouldn’t criticize what they couldn’t see. Those things were a threat to me because I had no self-acceptance of my own. I lacked the interior scaffolding to present my authentic self to the world.
Because of modern socialization, I think most of us will always have some small awareness of how we fit in, so if you struggle to be 100% authentic around other people, I wouldn’t beat myself up about it.
I’m still not even entirely sure who I’d be in social situations if I had no fear of rejection, at all, but now I have a better idea. Over the years, I’ve been slowly learning self-acceptance and claiming space for my authentic self. I’m even nourished by social interaction, now. I’m still a little drained by it, too, but I can recover quickly once I’m alone.
Being more authentic to myself has taught me to seek better quality connections, too, which I think is the real reason I didn’t resonate with the book Quiet. About a week ago, I saw Brené Brown in a clip from the TV show Ellen, and she said this:
Anytime you feel connection based on someone else’s pain or humiliation, that connection is counterfeit. It is BS. It’s not real connection.
Quiet doesn’t exactly try to connect introverts based on the pain or humiliation of extroverts, but it seeks to pit introverts against extroverts and then claim the superiority of introverts. This felt especially wrong to me given that I’ve spent most of my life grateful to extroverts.
Most of my friends are extroverts. They talk so I don’t have to. They try to connect with me when no one else will bother. They never act like they’re doing me a favor or conceding something by talking to me. They create connection, in general, which is something we all desperately need, right now.
Because we need it, it’s time to be brave enough to practice self-acceptance and authenticity as often as we can, as well as work to make it safe for everyone else to do the same.
Things I enjoyed this week:
This series on Humans of New York. It should totally be made into a movie or a miniseries, especially for this scene:
We knew we were never going to beat these rich kids. As soon as we stepped off the bus, everyone was looking at us. It’s not every day you see a transgender teacher with all these big ass black kids. And it was very obvious that we poor. Everyone else was wearing ironed dress shirts and khakis. We’ve got plain white tees and sandals. DiCo’s trying to help us tie our ties. It was embarrassing. It’s like, c’mon DiCo. You just became a guy.
I’ve been watching a lot of stand-up on Netflix, lately, and I adore Hannah Gadsby.
This is a thought take, I hadn't considered the authenticity angle before. Thanks.
Really nice piece--It’s clear to me that you and I are very different (I’m pretty extroverted and, as my wife would say, overly willing to take on relationships with people despite their obvious flaws) but you have a way of explaining who you are and how you are that really helps me understand you. I think that’s why I keep reading your stuff: I love getting a window into the ways that other people think.