Orchid Children and the Power of Quiet

My brother and I were sitting in my living room one day, discussing his little cherub.

By the age of 3, he was already a great conversationalist, and by age 7 had lists of families he wanted to invite for Sunday brunch.  My nephew’s Sundays involve more socialising than I do in a month, and that is to say nothing of his after school activities.

Luckily for him, this child is no introvert, because suddenly my brother blurted out:

“I would hate to have a quiet kid,” he laughs, “Imagine that, sitting there, reading all his little books and doing all his homework – I couldn’t think of anything worse!”

Right at that moment, the chasm between my brother and I couldn’t have been wider.  I mean, he basically just described my entire childhood, so I’m tipping I wasn’t his ideal kind of sis….

Fast forward a couple of years, and imagine my delight when, in the middle of some Amazon research, I click on a cover entitled Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

This may be old news already – it was Amazon’s best book of the month in January this year.  But the book is profound enough for me to want to share it anyway…

All these years, while I was whining about being misunderstood, Susan Cain was going to the trouble of researching and writing an eloquent paper on the plight of us quieter types.

This is not an objective review.  As Hallie Sawyer points out in her post on reviews vs recommendations, that would involve a degree of impartiality when, actually, I’d already decided the book was great based on its cover.  Having now read it, permit me to make a bold recommendation:

Everyone in the ‘Western’ world should read this book.

The stunning thing about it is the clear and intricate story Susan Cain weaves through an array of otherwise complex studies.  It includes:

  • An historical analysis of the “extrovert ideal” in America, revealing ways in which it may have failed introverts and, by extension, their society.
  • A look at the distinction between shyness, sensitivity and introversion, allowing for a wide variance on the introvert/extrovert continuum.
  • A helpful questionnaire for those who don’t know where they sit (if you answered ‘True’ to all questions as I did, you are one of the unlucky ones).

But two chapters stand out for me.

One is her analysis of cultural differences in extroversion.  While trying to avoid fixed lines between East and West, Susan finally explained to me some reasons why I’ve always found myself gravitating towards people of ‘other cultures’.

Apparently, it’s not just about cultural cringe :)

More revealing still is the chapter that explores the role of biology and environment in forming temperament.  It highlights profound differences in the way extroverts and introverts process ‘stimuli’.

This means, amazingly enough, there is actual science behind the fact that I’m not into Friday night bar crawls!

The great news is it’s not the end of the world for those of us born with more ‘reactive’ or ‘introverted’ temperaments.

We are “more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent”.

The place Susan arrives at is a beautiful balance between nature and nurture – and a highly empowering statement.

For me personally, it is all the more empowering for the way that we are left with the feeling that being a little quieter, or slower, or less social than others is not a crime.  In fact, we’re needed just the way we are.

Yes, Susan Cain is critical of a cultural imbalance towards extroversion.  But she’s not the enemy of extroverts (and nor am I, in case you’re wondering).  We simply would not survive without the buzz of our near and dearest extroverts.

And therein lies the key to the power of this book.  What we are left with is a refreshing guide for harmonious relationships, making clear the onus is on both us ‘types’ to make it work.

Thankfully, this also includes tips for parents with my brother’s ‘worst nightmare’ type of child.  So should Karma ever bring him an orchid child, instead of just smiling smugly, I can at least buy him a copy of Susan Cain’s book ;)

For those of you who are – or know – an orchid child, maybe this resonates?  Feel free to share some stories, or tips on how to help them bloom…

The Master Painter’s Canvas

A few weeks back I was introduced to the poetry of Vincent Edward Manda.  I’ve really enjoyed conversing with him and reading his poems, and was particularly inspired by his work The Painter of the World.

This post is in appreciation of his verse, and the question posed within.  It goes along the lines of, if the world were a painting, doesn’t the art say something of the Master Painter, too?

I’m not much of an artist, but I know enough to know that ‘perfection’ is a blend of darks and lights…

Others also ponder on this theme.  Whether it is the thoughtful philosophy of Global Unison, or the gorgeous travel log In Search of Perfect – there seems to be consensus that perfection and imperfection are closely intertwined.

So, inspired by these three, I thought it was time to take you to another holiday destination, this time New Zealand’s south island.

I was very lucky to visit before the recent earthquakes.   It was my first and (so far) only overseas trip.  I really did believe the ads that promised ‘100% Pure’….

The oil painting that is the Akaroa habour

Fiery remnants of a newly formed earth (Barry’s Bay near Akaroa)

Christchurch to Greymouth by Overlander rail

Beautifully manicured Lavendyl Lavendar Farm near Kaikoura

Chilled out seal colonies (Kaikoura)

Marine sanctuaries for the planet’s rarest dolphin (Akaroa)

Lyttelton historic town and habour

 

New Zealand is such a land of contrast; of exquisite highs and devastating lows.  It hardly seems fair that since this trip, Lyttelton found itself the epicentre of the 2011 earthquake, while Akaroa was all but left untouched.

Here in Melbourne, this is worth a pause.  We recently felt the tremors of a 5.3 magnitude quake.  Except for a few Twitter updates, most of us barely noticed…

I love the line from Sonny, in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:

“Everything will be all right in the end.  So if it’s not all right, then it is not yet the end.”

So, too, with Lyttelton.  In the wake of the trauma, the historic town boasts a renewed sense of community, focused on creating a sustainable future.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad there’s still room on the Master Painter’s canvas…

Dogs, Children and Toy Envy

This topic was prompted by the angry outburst of a young woman who declared she was not that different to the dogs she trains.  I was impressed by the passion of her statement; one that some would consider an insult to their own intelligence.

It’s a question I am usually hesitant to voice on account of my family’s screw-faced disdain for four-legged things.  But since blogging has given me an emboldened sense of self-confidence, I thought I’d ask it here.

How different, really, are dogs from us?  Can they legitimately be called a child substitute?

A couple of years ago I happened upon a documentary that gave me all the ammunition I would ever need in defending my pooch spoiling ways.

On account of the incredible smarts of a dog in Austria, The Secret Life of the Dog puts a canine’s intellectual capacity on par with a child aged two or three.

This was proven, not only by the undeniable size of the dog’s vocabulary, but by it’s remarkable skills of toy recognition.  (It’s amazing what a bit of positive reinforcement can do.)

While the skeptics among us are busy squabbling over the science, let me just say I’ve personally witnessed two types of sentient being in no doubt whatsoever of the validity of this claim.

You guessed it.  Dogs and children.

The Christmas before Pepi’s brain broke, we went camping.  Best Christmas ever.

Next to us was a cute family of four, also trying to escape their relatives.

On Christmas afternoon, the little four year old girl wandered over for a bit of Christmas present show and tell.  The books went by without a whimper.  But then she made the mistake of bringing out the sparkling unicorn.

It might have been bigger than Pepi, but as far as he was concerned, that toy was, “Mine, all mine!”

The more she snatched it out of reach, the more incensed he became until, alas, poor Pepi had to be locked away in the tent and reprimanded.

Upon my return, her pronouncement that Pepi was a “naughty boy!” was disproportionate to the size and status of a little scrap of dog.  It smacked, just a tad, of triumph over rival.

Then there was the time my Neephs came to visit.

“He’s got soooooo many toys!” declared my three year old niece, and then the kids closed in and counted…one…two…three…SIX toys!

“Such a nice big bed!!” she squealed.  “I wish I had a bed like that!”

She would have climbed in with him, were it not for the self-protective yelp that Pepi gave.  The yelp of one’s belongings under siege.

To everyone’s credit, most of the kids I know are very good with Pepi – and likewise, he with them.  But there is something about the way they interact.

Some illuminating, though slightly worrying experiments on foxes in Siberia, show the way we have bred dogs to be frozen at an infantile stage of life.

Were it not for this, our dear little pups would be far more aggressive, cynical and, funnily enough, a lot less cute looking.

Which brings me to the conclusion of this little tale.

There are two resounding complaints I hear from a different brand of silver fox:

(1) That they don’t see their grown-up children enough.

(2) That their children didn’t turn out quite the way they hoped they would.

So here we have it, the real reason why people have dogs:

They never grow up or leave home.  They rarely disappoint.  And most of all, they love us cutely and unquestioningly for their entire life :)

It makes me wonder if this is also an unconscious reason behind the cosseting or curtailing of our teens.  Who is it that really isn’t ready to let go?

Of course, Dr Peter Rowley-Conwy also raises the question of parasitic relationships, but I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

The moral of the story is, who could ask for a better child substitute? In the words of Dr Morten Kringelbach “What we get in return is probably sometimes much greater than what we put in”.

Do you have a similar story to tell about children and dogs? Or is this just anthropomorphism dressed in expert clothing? Please do share…

Women, Anger and Blogging

In the last few weeks, I’ve been thrilled and surprised to meet some incredibly articulate young women in the blogosphere.

When I stumbled onto the not-so-rambly Ramblings of the Insane Girl, it was the brutal honesty of her post about being Allergic to Home  that propelled me to hit ‘Follow’.  At last, there was someone game enough to admit their family was dysfunctional!  It took me right back to 1992…

I was, as usual, hidden away in my room, brooding on the inevitability of changing schools for the third time since Year 7.

Dad, of course, was refusing to send me to boarding school in Melbourne on account of it having corrupted my sister.  I, in opposition, was enacting a cold war.

Three weeks before the term began, when still no decision had been made, Dad suddenly entered my room and offered – as if it was his idea all along – to send me off to Melbourne.

Freedom was never so sweet as the day when, age 15, I won my independence.

It took us another eighteen years to actually discuss what happened after that, but hey – at least we’ve called a truce!

When I discovered the self-proclaimed Pessimistic Optimizer, it was honesty of a different kind that had me hooked.  I gather, from her posts, she is past the college age.  But I love the way she is able to reconnect me with that naïve, wannabe teacher’s pet, whose ultimate goal was to be a goodly shining light.

Problem was, like her, I ended up far too pessimistic  for my own good.  As she says, “How could I not be?  Have you seen the world we live in?”

When I left the safe cocoon of my sheltered private school life and entered the real world of corporate blood lust, my brain nearly exploded.

How could everyone be so mean and sleazy and downright greedy?

The worst thing that can happen to a Taurean goody-two-shoes, at the age of 22, is being told you are just “young and idealistic”.  Needless to say, what ensued was what my Mother affectionately refers to as “another one of Alarna’s little bombshells”.

My dubious art from Year 10

That was when I discovered the fine line between bravery and stupidity.

But that’s another story :)

It is possible, for these reasons, I was drawn to read The Musings of a Pirate.  They came in the form of a Personal Rant filed under ‘Socially Deprived’ (Disclaimer: this post contains coarse language). “Don’t waste your time with this”, she said.  So, of course, I did.  And it most definitely was NOT a waste.

Whiney, selfish, righteous rants don’t interest me.  But this is different.  It is full of energy, passion and highly motivated, female ANGER.  Anger at restraint.  At the way in which boys are encouraged to achieve, while girls are deemed “not ready”.  At the way an angry girl is mocked.

If anyone has ever wondered what goes on in the mind of their angry young women, this is a must read.  What I love is the constructive note of the anger, borne out of a desire to “ACHIEVE something in this world”.

Anger in women is a much maligned emotion.  Just compare a Google search on ‘Angry Young Man’ to ‘Angry Young Woman’.  One has a Wikipedia page and is clearly expected.  The other is a problem to be understood.

But history is full of highly effective angry young women.  Check out Colin Falcolner’s informative posts on Princess Pingyang, Mary Shelley and Isabella, Braveheart of France – to name a few.

The signs are there that the new millennium is calling for young women to be a force for change.  Take Buffy or Brave or Britain’s new generation of young, angry, female playwrights, for instance.  Then there’s will.i.am’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) advocacy, aimed at encouraging girls from the ghetto to be the leaders of tomorrow, (see the Graham Norton interview, 11:20 minutes in).

The question is how we harness the rage into a creative, rather than destructive, force.  Here, I think The Pirate might have given us a clue:

“I’m not that much different than the dogs I train and I just want to know I’m on the right track, at least a little. You’d suck as a dog trainer. You don’t have any clear objective, you’re light with your praise and heavy on your criticism. That’s what good dog trainers realize traumatizes a dog.”

Next week I promise to discuss the concept of dog parenting.  But for now, I think what she is saying is, all we need is a little positive reinforcement :)

I love that these days a blogosphere exists, where women can and do support each other.  Thanks to these young women, I’ve been reconnected with the passion of my youth.  Together, maybe there’s a chance that we can keep the flame alive…