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…


  1. says

    This is amazing. I’ve seen this book, I’ve read reviews on this book, I’ve looked at the author’s website, but I haven’t yet read it. And after reading this I want to get my hands on it very badly. I’m an introvert and proud of it. I’ve never heard the term ‘Orchid child’ before, but I like it.

    Thanks for sharing this. I, being an introvert, appreciate it. And I can’t wait to read this book!

    • says

      We need a bumper sticker that says ‘Introvert and proud of it’ 🙂 Very happy to share…the orchid analogy definitely brought it all together for me, and like some other reviews have said, it really was like the weight coming off your shoulders. Love to know your thoughts when you do read it 😉

  2. says

    SO interesting!! First, I totally support the “recommendation” over review lingo as it’s much more intellectually honest. But back to the subject. I’m always interested in introversion/extroversion talk. Nobody believes me, but I AM technically an introvert. I am very socially ept, have tons of friends, etc, BUT . . . being around people absolutely depletes me after a while. After a night out, I can only read . . . I can’t talk to my husband or anyone. It’s like I’m totally empty. He, on the other hand, can keep talking all night (and often does). 😉

    • says

      Haha! From your on-line profile, I probably would have had you pegged as extrovert. But from reading the book, it makes sense you’re not – plus the social depletion thing is a dead giveaway 🙂 It’s a topic I could probably talk about endlessly…BTW, must thank you for Hallie Sawyer’s article – took me a while to find again, ’cause I had in mind you wrote it. Definitely good points there 🙂

  3. liz says

    O.M.G. i simply MUST get my hands on this book. then i can curl up with my cup of coffee, enjoy some moments by myself, and absorb all the information that “gives me permission” to be home reading a book instead of our partying & socializing. 😉 thank you for the recommendation!

  4. says

    Brilliant post, Alarna! I’ve been meaning to get this book, as I thought it sounded good. Sounds even better now. I’m particularly interested in the bit about the difference between shyness and introversion and all of that. i suspect that there is more of a blend in most people than we think.

  5. says

    I relate to every single word in this post – while I can handle social situations, I need to replenish, refill, and rejuvenate on my own.

    Sitting, reading, quiet – are at the top of my list!

    {Thank you also for the book review and recommendation. I’m always a bit behind on best sellers, so this one’s a fab NEW add to my list!}

    • says

      I was trying to work out where I had heard your name before…but of course – it’s the lovely Nina Badzin! Thrilled that you’ve stopped by 🙂

      It’s interesting that a need for solitude or quiet is often equated with a lack of sociability. But they are not the same thing, are they?

      Quiet moments are rare enough to earn their place at the top of the list. Glad to add this book to yours 🙂

  6. says

    Alarna, this is such an awesome post. I hadn’t heard of this book before, but I love the comparison of introverts to orchids. That’s just too darn cool! I read on a blog post about a year ago how introverts do well in social situations, but it drains them. They need to recuperate afterwards, and that’s exactly how I am. I love being around people, having fun and laughing, talking, etc. But when I get home, I’m ready to collapse. When my kids were young, I’d go to their school and read to the different classrooms. I’d dress up in character or just wear a funny hat, some kind of prop to get their attention. I loved doing it, being around kids and getting them pumped up about read (or art when I’d go up to do an art project), but I had no energy left once I left. Until I read that blog post a year ago, I wondered why I would poop out so easily, and now I understand. And this book just backs that up. Sounds like a wonderful read. Thanks for such a great book review and also for sharing your own experiences as an introvert!

    • says

      Oh, Lynn! I love hearing from you 🙂 You’re another one I definitely would have pegged as ‘extrovert’ from your on-line activity – what, with those videos and costumes! But that need for recuperation seems to be a telling theme. It’s interesting – I read a post by Jenny Hansen recently who described the experience of being an extrovert as gaining energy from interacting with others! Before this, it had never occurred to me that solitude could be draining, LOL. So it seems like this must be a defining difference between introverts and extroverts. (This is not to say I don’t get a buzz out of interacting, it just depends what kind of interaction and how often it happens 🙂 ). Very interesting stuff…love sharing with you, Lynn 🙂

  7. says

    I remember seeing this book at B & N and why I didn’t get it then, I don’t know. Lynn Kelley’s reply also gave me pause to think.I do need a boost from extroverts but it is exhausting. Glad I found your blog.

    • says

      Glad to have been found by another Lynne 😉 I think most of us are like that with books – now that they are available on-line I find I don’t miss out so much, because I can just go back and get it with one click! But, yes – we have a lot to offer each other – introverts and extroverts. We just need to give each other ‘space’ as well 🙂

  8. says

    Sounds like it would be a good read.
    I have just been figuring that we (introverts) are needed because otherwise who would listen to all that extroverted chatter! 😉

    • says

      Haha – spot on there – no use talking if no-one’s actually listening! It’s a totally under-rated skill (though, if I’m honest, my eagerness to listen can sometimes be pure laziness to speak-up, too :/ ). A bit of balance both sides would be good 🙂

  9. says

    I really liked this book Alarna! My copy has at least a dozen post it tags sticking out from its pages–I just identified so much with it. Love the orchid reference too 🙂

    • says

      I thought you might be one who’d have read it. I bought my copy on Kindle, and am still trying to work out how to use the bookmarks. Soooo frustrating not being able to just flick through pages easily 🙂

  10. says

    really interesting post, thank you… I’m in my seventies, and seem to need solitude and silence even more. We have a silent Tuesday in our house, when there is no speaking, and my garrulous husband just has to be quiet. The bliss of not being available, and also the bliss of the blessed silence in the house!

    • says

      Oh, wow! I love the idea of Silent Tuesday, and I would say you’ve earned your right by now to have a bit of peace and quiet 🙂 It’s the opposite in my Mum’s house – I think she wouldn’t mind a Talkative Tuesday, as my Dad’s a bit of a quiet fellow. So glad you came by!


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