Introverts spark a revolution
There's a movement brewing, and it sounds like silence.
A new kind of quiet revolution is taking place. And unlike most revolutions throughout history, it’s actually being fought by introverts.
It all started when activist Susan Cain wrote New York Times bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking in 2013. Cain explains that introverts are the 30% of the population who feel switched on and alive in quieter, lower key environments. She argued that introverts – who are observant rather than loud, creative rather than self-promotive, deliberative rather than impulsive – have a lot to offer society.
History abounds with famous introverts including Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling and Yoko Ono. Wharton professor Adam Grant found that introverted leaders in workplaces often get better outcomes because they respect the ideas of their employees more.
“When it comes to creativity and leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best,” says Cain.
Unfortunately, today's Western society tends to undervalue introverts, and quiet people often feel like second-class citizens. One "Quiet Revolutionary" featured on Cain's website, Israeli Adam Chesin, struggled with shyness for years.
“I felt self-conscious even when people just looked at me,” he told From The Grapevine.
In his thirties, he joined a group in which shy people simply practiced social interactions. He was surprised to find that other people in the group weren’t weird or socially awkward. They were just shy, “sensitive souls.”
It worked. Over a few years, Chesin experienced a miraculous turnaround. He was able to do things he never thought he could, like speak in public and even perform in plays.
Chesin wondered if there were any groups like his for kids, who were at crucial ages for practicing their interacting skills. After finding none, he started his own, called “Rakefet,” named after a type of flower that slopes inward, symbolizing shyness, modesty, introversion and beauty.
“I wasted 15 years not knowing what to do,” says Chesin. “I don’t want other people to waste their time, too.”
Rakefet is a supportive environment, in which kids practice things like public speaking and asking others out on dates. It’s made up of seven groups in seven cities throughout Israel. Chesin also delivers presentations at schools.
“Quiet people have a lot of gifts to give to the world, but they’re overlooked,” says Chesin. “Once your social muscles become stronger, you can start coming out of the prison you’re in.”
Cain has told Chesin she hopes to encourage groups like his in the United States and beyond.
“There is a word for ‘people who are in their heads too much’ – thinkers.” – Susan Cain
Outgoingness is such a sought-after quality in Western society. Teachers report preferring extroverted students, even though research shows that introverts gets higher grades and are more knowledgeable. Employers often ignore quiet employees for promotions, and self-help books abound with tips for being more sociable. But that wasn’t always the case.
Earlier in American history, people lived in a “culture of character.” Nineteenth century self-help books focused on qualities like modesty and kindness rather than boisterousness. But when the Industrial Revolution came around, people started moving out of small communities and into cities, where they needed to be outgoing to get noticed in crowds of strangers.
Since then, qualities like gregariousness and charisma have been held up as the highest of virtues, and introverts became frequently overlooked.
Cain vowed to launch a quiet revolution in which introverts would gain back their right to be heard and appreciated, but for a while, it wasn’t clear what that meant. Her website, Quietrev.com, consisted of a single page where you could subscribe to an email list for further updates.
Quietrev.com has grown, and it’s starting to become clear what Cain is envisioning: she’s trying to build a community for introverts to find resources, be inspired and support each other. The site’s manifesto begins with: “There is a word for ‘people who are in their heads too much’ – thinkers.”
In addition to including information about Cain and introverts, the website is full of articles explaining how introverts can succeed in traditionally extrovert-centric activities, such as teaching and networking (focus on talking to two or three people), tips on parenting quiet kids, and information on seminars and online learning for quiet leaders. It also includes introvert-written narratives and a section dubbed “Quiet Revolutionaries,” featuring portraits of “strong yet gentle, firm but kind” introverted leaders like Chesin.
It’s not clear where this revolution will go, but thanks to people like Adam, it seems to be getting started. In a noisy world, perhaps the people most able to see clearly through the flashing, swirling rains of modernity are the quiet ones in the eye of the storm.
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