I used to volunteer in our kids’ classrooms on Mondays, helping our son’s third grade teacher with copies and helping our daughter’s first grade teacher with word-sort groups. I worked with a group of three kids in our daughter’s class – a fun, quick little boy who liked to shout out answers, an intense, commanding little girl, and a somewhat serious, quiet little Korean-American girl who, based on her sweet but mysterious smile, I suspect has a rich inner life with just a tiny bit of mischief.
One Monday, I was working hard to prevent the little boy extrovert and the assertive girl from dominating the lesson, as quickly-spoken kids tend to do, and so I asked the quiet girl a direct question, shushing the other two so that she could think and answer. After she hadn’t spoken for a good 20 seconds, I was about to prompt her when I remembered a passage from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. In her chapter about “Asian-Americans and the Extrovert Ideal,” the author interviews a Chinese-American man working in America:
A software engineer told me how overlooked he felt at work in comparison to other people, “especially people from European origin, who speak without thinking.” In China, he said, “If you’re quiet, you’re seen as being wise. It’s completely different here. Here people like to speak out. Even if they have an idea, not completely mature yet, people still speak out.”
I am not a patient person, and as my husband and friends can tell you, I am an interrupter, a sentence-finisher, a buttinsky. A prompter. So it was with great self-restraint that I held my tongue, telling myself that this sharp little girl had the answer in her, she was just letting her thought mature before speaking it. Another five or ten seconds passed, and then, with perfect poise, this six-year-old girl gave her answer fully formed, with no shyness, no “um”s, not one bit of hesitation. With no leading into an answer and looking to me for reaction to see if she was on the right track, with no question in her mind about the accuracy or thoroughness of her response. And as you can guess, she was concise, articulate, and absolutely correct.
I fell in love with her right then and was so grateful that I had read Susan Cain’s book. On top of helping me understand my husband and son better, Quiet gave me the restraint I needed to give this soft-spoken, highly intelligent girl a chance among her gregarious peers. Moreso, it showed me the rewards for patience, for I will always carry with me that moment of pride for this little girl. A moment neither one of us would have experienced had I prompted as I was tempted to do.
“I ♥ Introverts” originally published November 2012.
If you are an introvert, or are married to an introvert, or your best friend or child is an introvert, or if you don’t understand introverts, or if you have no interest in introverts whatsoever, or if you want a deeper understanding of humanity and your relations with people, you should read this book. I devoured it.