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…