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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Susan Cain

Crown Publishers

This happened several years ago.

The committee of people who want the school to be a safe and happy place decided it would be a good idea for the school to have a set of common rules.  I understood the idea right away: rules so simple that they would apply everywhere, that all teachers could teach consistently, that kids could understand.  I was in full support of this idea.

It was discussed in a meeting of the whole staff  Some people had ideas.  I had ideas, too.  Someone got the idea of making the rules spell out the school’s initials, to make them more memorable.  People started calling out key words that started with the relevant letters.  A draft was quickly assembled on a whiteboard from the called-out phrases.

It was my opinion that the rules on the whiteboard didn’t do what we were trying to do.  They were awkwardly phrased.  They required extra explanation.  They didn’t encompass all the situations that might come up in a wide variety of different situations.  They were hard to remember.  In the effort to make the rules match specific letters, the focus had moved away from a set of simple and comprehensive rules.

I raised a hand, in that large gathering.  I didn’t say all of that, because I didn’t feel that ‘This whole thing is bad’ was the right thing to say.  Instead, I focused on one problem I perceived.  “I don’t think ‘honorably’ is a good word to use in the school rules,” I said.  “Very few of our students will have a clear idea of what that means – in fact, even adults don’t always agree on what ‘honor’ is.  Some people even see ‘honor’ as a reason for fighting and conflict.”

Several other people called out to explain that I was wrong.

“‘Honorably’ is perfectly clear, and just what we want our students to do!”

“These kids need to learn what ‘honor’ is.  Their parents don’t teach them!”

And from there, some fairly unhelpful discussion of ‘these kids today’ and what is wrong with them.

Only four or five people were participating, out of the fifty or sixty in the room.

I didn’t say anything more.  What would be the point?  I knew I could come up with a good set of rules if I could think about it quietly and write for a bit, but I couldn’t do it in this meeting, and I couldn’t do it by shouting back and forth with louder people with different ideas, and by the time the meeting was over, it would be irrelevant.

So the rules on the whiteboard were voted on, and passed.

They were printed on posters and hung all over the building.

The print had to be kind of small, to fit them on the posters, so they can’t be read unless you’re standing right next to them.

Very few teachers actually use the phrasing of the rules, or emphasize them as a guiding principle for the behaviors they expect in class.

The posters are ignored by pretty much everyone, teachers and students and administrators.

The rules were chosen by a staff vote, and they were created in a staff meeting.  But that doesn’t mean they came from the best ideas in the room.  They came from the loudest, most forceful voices in the room.

I’ve had many similar experiences.  It doesn’t always matter that I have good ideas sometimes, because they’re not usually heard.  When I think my ideas are really important, or that something has been missed that could cause real problems, I email someone.  Sometimes that is effective.  Not usually.

Over the years, I’ve given up, for the most part, on trying to participate in decision-making, and I just let the people with the forceful personalities do that work- after all, they will be the ones making the decisions whether I try to participate or not.  Instead, I focus on my own classroom practice, where I try hard to create an environment that is simple, ordered, and organized.

This book is about introversion.  It’s a strong criticism of a society which privileges extroversion over introversion- which often actually privileges extroversion over good ideas, real skills, or reasonable prudence.  It’s a defense of introverts, and an primer  on how to function as an introvert, and an explanation for extroverts on how to understand introverts, and an exploration of the societal pressures that cause Americans to choose extroversion where, for example, Japanese people would choose introversion as the more desirable temperament.

As an introvert myself, I found it interesting reading, and somewhat empowering.  I can’t help wishing my bosses would read it.


Written by Contented Reader

July 31, 2012 at 7:31 am

Posted in Reviews


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