In the 1950s and ’60s, civil rights activists transformed the United States by working to outlaw racial discrimination. In the late ’60s and ’70s, the women’s liberation movement radically altered America’s perception of the female sex. Today, one woman is advocating for the rights of another marginalized group: introverts. She’s calling it the “quiet revolution.”
Susan Cain is the author of the 2012 nonfiction bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Next Thursday, Cain speaks at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Last week, she talked to me by phone from Montreal.
“I do think about this in the same terms as gender or racial diversity,” Cain said. “Introverts are a big part of the population.” In fact, introverts account for one-third to one-half of all Americans. That’s not to say that up to 50 percent of us dislike socializing or have limited people skills. In her book, Cain makes a distinction between introversion — a preference for less stimulation and more solitude — and shyness: the fear of social judgment. Before the publication of her book, Cain says, she was not just introverted but also shy, which made public speaking a nightmare. But by pushing herself to do what she most feared, she’s come to enjoy talking to groups. “My book tour has been a grand experiment in acting out of character sometimes and also building in the time that I need to recharge,” she explained.
Fear of public speaking was a barrier worth pushing past, but introversion, Cain says, is nothing to overcome. On the contrary, introverts offer the world valuable gifts — they’re often innovators, deep thinkers, and compassionate leaders — yet these assets are often misunderstood, overlooked, or undervalued in a world that rewards the outspoken, the aggressive, and the self-promotional.
Google “Susan Cain,” and you’ll find a 19-minute TED talk in which the soft-spoken author describes her childhood experience of summer camp (“a keg party without the alcohol”), reels off the names of introverted cultural icons (Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates), and discusses the importance of solitude for creative and intellectual breakthroughs.
The title of Cain’s Santa Barbara talk is “How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts to Change How We Work, Lead, and Innovate,” and though it might sound as if her work is targeted at the introverted among us, Cain asserts that her topic is relevant to everyone. “Just as achieving equality for women benefits everybody, so does this,” she said. “It’s a moral issue. Introverts really do bring different skills and gifts to the world, and it’s worth all of us understanding that better.”
Susan Cain speaks at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, November 29 at 8 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.