Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Review: Quiet

I downloaded this to my kindle because it was intriguing and alsobecause the title was unflattering to *extroverts.  Extroverts get on my nerves and I have known many who just don't know how to shut up.

The book draws on scholarly research but instead of being a dry presentation of those results, the author describes events and interviews with a variety of researchers, extroverts, introverts, and introverted pseudo-extroverts. 

There's a huge bias against the extroverts, but of course it made me go *yeah* or *snigger* rather than want to diss the book in this review.

Speaking of this review, why am I writing it?

Well, throughout the book there are hints at the reason why introverted people might be more drawn to atheism, or rather, put off by religion.  First, religion generally involves gathering with other people at least once a week.  That right there is a turn-off.  Then consider that introverts live more inside their own heads than take in stimulation from outside.  Listening to a pastor or even a rousing gospel choir isn't anywhere near as much fun for us as being lost in our own thoughts going in our own direction.  Then follow this torture with "coffee hour," during which we are forced to make cocktail party style small talk without the benefit of a cocktail.

Cain took one for the team by going to Rick Warren's Palace of Emotional Torture, a.k.a. Saddleback Church.  Huge, loud, obnoxious..... I shudder thinking of being there.  Her description was vivid and I felt every twitch of discomfort with her.  Of course there are churches where introverts won't feel overwhelmed, but her description got me thinking about a connection between introversion & atheism.  Ever since seeing the Myers-Briggs skewing of atheists online into the INT- camps, I've wondered if that was a reflection of atheism or of computer geekiness.  After reading this book I'm leaning toward the introversion theory.

We introverts apparently share a lot of qualities other than just recharging our batteries alone rather than at parties.  We can be more sensitive inwardly but also more sensitive to the social cues around us.  We "read" the social enviornment more keenly than extroverts, who basically just get high when they're in their element.  Could this mean we are attuned to the "tells" of the adults around us as children?  Were we the first to suspect that Santa Claus wasn't real, and could we tell that the priest/pastor/rabbi/imam didn't really believe every word they said?  Could our in-touchness put us more in the real world than our in-headness would suggest?  Or do we doubt more because we're just immune to religious group think because we're immune to all kinds of group think?

Wall Street bankers demonstrated the difference between extroverts and introverts quite dramatically:  the extroverts made stupid decisions when they saw the market starting to implode while introverts made more cautious, wiser decisions.  It wasn't so much that introverts are averse to risk (or else why would they be investment bankers in the first place?) but that extroverts get high on adventure, which isn't always a good thing.  Of course, it's not always a good thing not to go for adventure.

I really only skimmed through the chapter on child-rearing, since I don't have kids and I'm not a teacher.  What I remember of it was "yep, yep, yep."  Especially:  group assignments YECH!!!!  And when a kid is passionate about something, they will speak up so points for "class participation" are really just uhhhh talking points.  This chapter was a good complement to the view of the Asian culture of introversion, which coincidentally encourages scholarship, thought, and listening and discourages empty blather.

Perhaps predictably, she includes a yin-yang kind of story: FDR & his wife, quiet Eleanor.  He was an extrovert (as most politicians are) and Eleanor was an introvert.  Their marriage didn't work but as a political couple they complemented each other.  She was the sensitive soul that saw and felt the needs of the poor.  He was the astute and bold politician who could make things happen after she'd raised his awareness.  And she could "come out of her shell" for a cause that ignited her passion.  (The book also talks about how to survive a mixed marriage but I'll spare you that)

So... as an atheist introvert, I could see myself in most of this book, even the parts about introverts who learn to behave like extroverts.  I can bring my work-self to work but I need to get away for breaks to recharge my batteries.  I also related to the part about Asian culture.  I investigated Taoism & Buddhism on my way to skeptical-atheism (a-supernaturalism is too much of a mouthful).  Meditation is more my style than any type of church.  My only fond memories of being a Christian are listening to or performing classical music with the backing of a beautiful old organ.  And even that was a little much for me.

Interestingly, many of us can learn to "fake" being extroverted.  I think I learned how to be extroverted-seeming from my experiences with black people in workplaces where I was the only non-black.  One of my coworkers who didn't have much experience with white people accused me of being snobby... after she felt comfortable with me and vice versa.  I was shocked.  After that I made more of a point of trying to make a good impression, which usually meant acting extroverted, or at least being more open.  Once I got comfortable with the cultures in the various places I've been, I didn't feel like I was being untrue to my real self.  I still kept to myself in my head even though I was cutting up and being outgoing on the outside, if that makes sense.   When we all had to go to Myers-Briggs "training," everyone was surprised that I was an introvert.  Even today, in mostly-white Indiana, I make a point of being more forward with black people, like saying  "Hi don't fear me I'm not a bigot or a snob, m'kay?"  The people I meet here probably have lots of experience with white people but it's second nature for me to be extra friendly toward black people now.   Of course the downside is that white people think I'm sometimes too forward and brash - not midwestern at all.  (I tell them that's my "New York" showing when that happens)

... but I did meet lots of introverted black people in these all-black-but-me workplaces.  My first impression was probably that they didn't like me because I'm white, just as some extroverted people may have thought I was a bigot for being more reserved.  In both cases, after we got to know each other better in our own time everything was cool. See how thought-provoking this book is?  I never gave that a thought before.  The chapter on Asian-American relationships really helped me to see those experienes in a new light.

So... the book has a lot of food for thought and a lot of cheerleading for those of us who have been made to feel there was something wrong with us.  I recommend it for introverts & extroverts alike.

And I want to delve into psychological journals now to see if there really is a relationship between introversion and atheism.  Stay tuned!

*the author intentionally used the common "extrovert" spelling rather than the "correct" spelling, "extravert" so I did the same.


Chatpilot said...

I have always been an introvert but somehow I managed to get caught up with Pentecostalism. I do tend to fake being an extrovert when I have to and I am pretty damn good at it. I mean you had to be to be an evangelist.

I have never felt comfortable around crowds and don't like talking much unless the conversation has some substance to it. There is some truth to some of the points you made in your review of that book Lady Atheist. Thanks again for yet another great post!

LadyAtheist said...

Thanks for the feedback Chatpilot. When I see videos of that kind of church it's really hard for me to reconcile that with the personalities of the people I know who are in that type of church. Was it a relief for you to stop going?

re: conversation, yep yep yep. I will be the last to leave the party if it's full of people who are willing to talk about something interesting. If it's random chit chat I'm outta there.

Infidel753 said...

Interesting observations. Not only East Asia but also western Europe seem like more introverted cultures than ours. Introversion seems more consistent with intellectual pursuits, which might be linked to differences in educational achievement, as well as in religiosity.

Chatpilot said...

Getting out of the church was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I hated being chased around by miracle mongers looking for me to lay hands on them! I would preach and when the crowd was too heavy I would let the local church leaders help me minister to them. During the service I never sat on the altar with the other ministers. I liked the back pew or the front but in a corner. I did not come up till asked to and preferred it that way. I did not like titles either, sometimes they would ask me how they should introduce me. I used to reply just call me brother David LOL! I didn't like reverend, evangelist, or any other made up title.

krissthesexyatheist said...

Buddy, that is very interesting. I've never made the connection between introversion and the mighty, mighty and on the correct side of history..Team Atheist. I look forward to your posts on that.

I'm introverted, but I have an extroverted job (cafe, barista). After work when everyone wants to go out, I wanna go somewhere and watch atheist/religious videos on my computer...and drink a couple too many beers.

Lastly, was' up with that dolphin cow photo
(super epic) live in Indiana. Come on grrrll, all the cook atheists live in Nor Cal.

Awesome buddy,


LadyAtheist said...

Kriss the cow & dolphin photo was supposed to represent introverts getting along in the extrovert environment. That's kind of a hard concept to put into a picture.