18 January 2012

On appreciating quiet

Are you an introvert or extrovert?.Author Susan Cain explores how introverts can be powerful in a world where being an extrovert is highly valued. Join From Left to Write on January 19 as we discuss Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. We'll also be chatting live with Susan Cain at 9PM Eastern on January 26. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

I'm guilty.  

There, I said it. 

I'm guilty....guilty, I tell you. 

My crime?  Wanting my child, no, expecting my child to be something different than he is.  As if there's something wrong with him, or lacking in him.  When he is just exactly as God intended him to be, without me and my neuroses laid upon his scrawny, preteen shoulders. 

You see, my son is an introvert.  And I...I am not.  Oh, I enjoy quiet time now and then, and I happily kiss my children goodbye as I drop them off at the door of the school, looking forward to the temporary peace that reigns in my kid-free house for a few hours each day.  I get weary of the constant chatter and TV noise and music noise and video game noise that invades my house during the hours that Moe, Larry and Curly are at home and awake.  Oh yes, I enjoy time to have a cup of coffee with a book or checking up on my Facebook friends for a while.  But not for very long.  I get a little antsy and I feel like picking up the phone and calling someone, or asking a friend to lunch or maybe just going to the grocery for a little friendly checkout-line-chitchat.  Too much quiet bothers me.   Full disclosure:  I am an ambivert, comfortable in both realms, but not comfortable enough to really stick with one or the other.  I'm a perennial fence-sitter in so many aspects of my life, but that's another post for another day.

Reading Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, has given me a whole new view on the introvert/extrovert question.  I haven't worked full time outside the home in nearly twelve years, and when I did work full time, my office was the cargo compartment of a C-141 cargo jet, flying for the Air Force.  So I don't have much of a frame of reference for much of the office statistics, such as how private or at least semi-private offices or cubicles vice an open floor plan affect productivity or how meetings are creativity-killers, and multi-tasking is really just a myth.  (As a busy mom, I wonder about that, but who am I to question solid research?) 

But for me, the real gems in Cain's book were about people who contributed a great deal to life as we know it, with all the creature comforts and technological gee-whiz fun toys, and they didn't seek the spotlight.  They were introverts.  They wanted, they needed to be left alone, in order to really get inside their own heads and pull all that magic out. Everyone knows about Apple products and the legendary Steve Jobs, may his soul rest in peace.  But not everyone knows about the other genius, the other Steve, behind my super-cool iPhone. Steve Wozniak, Introvert.  He wasn't good at, nor did he want to, jump up and down and attract a lot of attention to himself.  He didn't need to be the public face of Apple.  He just wanted to build computers.  And boy, did he ever build computers.  Given his tremendous success, he has learned to deal with the spotlight from time to time.  But he doesn't seek it out.

Why and how do these quiet, unassuming people get all this wonderful and creative innovation and all these way-cool ideas, when they're not all that good at selling it?  Why is it better to work alone when the light bulb moment strikes?  Why doesn't brainstorming work?  Why do we seem to be more attracted to qualities like magnetism, charisma, forcefulness and energy, while allowing qualities like duty, honor, manners, integrity, and hard work take a back seat?  The latter group are all things that a person can work to improve, but the former group...well, you either got it or you don't. 

The world loves an extrovert.  And the world loves someone who will toot their own horn confidently, and sell themselves boldly.  We live in a time where people are famous for nothing more than, well, being famous.  These people simply assume that the rest of the world is interested in them and what they're doing, where they're going, and whose clothes they're wearing.  And to a significant degree, they're right.  These celebrities make more for showing up once at a nightclub than I'll make in the next two years.  How do they do that?!

It's all in the book.  There is a lot of science and statistics, but Cain writes it all down in a way that makes it easy to follow.  

But really, how does this relate to my crime and my guilt?  Well, my son is an introvert.  He's a bright, capable, intelligent kid.  His imagination and the world he inhabits inside his head are nothing short of amazing.  And yet, I fail on a regular basis to appreciate the wonder that is my introverted boy.  I'm such a social creature that I don't truly understand his need to be alone, his preference to work alone, his lack of concern for the small number of phone calls and invitations he receives.  It's not that he doesn't have friends; he does.  He does get invitations and when he shows up at a party or a basketball game, he's greeted by several friends high-fiving him or giving him a noogie (this is apparently how preteen boys show affection and happiness).  

He's totally okay with being, playing, thinking alone.  On his own.  No one else.  But I have to admit, I sometimes wonder....do the other kids really like him?  Why do they so rarely call to ask him to come over, or to shoot some hoops, or to sleep over on Saturday nights? Why does he always seem to be alone?  Is something wrong with him? More full disclosure:  we live in smalltown USA and attend a small Catholic school where everyone knows everyone else and it's not as if he's swallowed up in a huge school and doesn't really get to know anyone.  He's been in the same class with the same kids for the last seven years. And I know that the other kids love him.  But still, I worry.  I worry that he's going to get left out and left behind. 

I don't understand his imaginary world.  I often have to remind him that I don't understand the language he has just now made up, and I'm going to need him to just use English, please.  Sometimes I have to remind him to rejoin the here and now.  He always does, but he's sometimes pretty darn reluctant.  And I worry. 

I've had people...coaches, instructors, activity leaders, other parents...insinuate (or sometimes outright say) that with his temperament and his inclination to be perfectly happy on his own, that he's going to get left out and left behind. And I worry.  In the words of one of these esteemed individuals (a 100% complete and total extrovert, maybe not capable of being alone for 10 minutes), if he didn't learn to be more outgoing and change facets of his personality, he was "going to be totally screwed in this life."  Imagine how well I took that comment. 

But Susan Cain begs to differ.  And through her book and her research, she gives me reason to beg to differ.  She has given me a reason and a way to view my son differently, and new ways for me to interact with him so that he feels loved and safe, no matter how social he may or may not be.  I don't understand him.  That's a terrible feeling, to not really get your kid.  To sometimes wish he could be a little more this or a little more that.  To fail to appreciate the beauty and the wonder, the gift from God,  that is right in front of me on a daily basis. 

But after reading Quiet, I'm beginning to get it.  And I'm beginning to get him. 


Melissa B said...

What a lovely post! I hope your son reads it. Yes, it's funny, we seem to have the opposite problem. So interesting to hear about it from the other side. There are so many ways to be in the world.

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

Isn't it funny when our a-ha moments hit us?

Marianne Thomas said...

I read this quickly this morning while spinning on my elliptical - I'll need to read it again more closely but I still wanted to comment while my mind was fresh.

You and I have talked about our happily quiet boys and could probably talk for hours about who they are and why they are so wonderfully different.

This is a great post about your son and I see mine in it in so many ways as well.

We as moms know our kids best and while we should never allow ourselves to turn a blind eye to their faults/areas where they need help, we also should never let someone else (no matter how well heeled or heavily degreed they may be) tell us "who" are kids are --- or aren't.

He's lucky to have you as his mom. ;-)

Some Suburban Mom said...

@ Melissa, thank you! I have not had him read it yet, but maybe I will.

@Kim, I love when the lightbulb comes on and I can connect the dots. It doesn't happen as often as I'd like, but I'll take what I can get :)

@Marianne...thank you for your kind words, my friend. I always value your insights into many things, but especially my children. You see them through a totally different lens and you see them as they really are, when I'm not around. Yep, God knew what He was was doing, giving me that child. I hope that he and I are learning from each other.

Grumpy Grateful Mom said...

Such an interesting post!

I have one child that is an extreme extrovert and the rest I'm still trying to figure out.

I struggle with knowing when to let my kids go at their own pace and when they need a little nudge. But, like you, I hope I can just appreciate the people they are.

Sounds like you have a great son.