An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

“Ann is shy,” my mother apologized when I ducked behind her and peered at new acquaintances from behind her skirt. Shy children embarrass American parents. Our culture extols outgoing people—the kind who brag about their 1,257 Facebook friends. Parents boast, “My child hasn’t a shy bone in her body,” while their hyena-offspring destroys the host’s living room and orders adults to, “Stop talking. We don’t want to hear you.”

Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, traces the American “extrovert ideal” to the rise of industrialization. As industry produced more and more goods, salesmen were needed to sell them—and sales people must connect with customers quickly in order to make a sale.

Introverts need time to recharge their batteries quietly. Their mode of thinking includes careful consideration of all information. Clearly, they are disadvantaged in a culture that emphasizes instant friendship and speedy decisions.

Cain, who spent ten years as a Wall Street lawyer, faults the culture of extrovert personality for the demise of Enron and for the 2008 financial meltdown. Careful, thorough analysts, who are generally introverts, were ignored and passed over for promotions in favor of risk-taking extroverts at Enron and during the lead-up to the financial crash.

I’m an introvert, but I enjoy being around extroverts. Our current bishop is an extrovert who really seems to enjoy his calling. He challenges kindergarteners to a race, joins a team of YM competing in simulated battles, or hugs old ladies with equal ease. Nothing like a previous introvert bishop awkwardly hugging ward teens during seminary graduation. For fun, fellowship, and outward expression of love, an extrovert bishop can’t be beat. Still, I’d prefer our previous introverted banker bishop for financial counseling.

Research on personality traits finds genetic components for both introvert and extrovert traits. Of course, a range of differences exists along the spectrum of both personality types. I loved Cain’s book because it validates the contribution of introverts to society. Her final chapters offer strategies for introverts to successfully interact in a culture which tends to reward extroverts.

A rewarding read.

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