I met some really incredible people at last week’s TED conference, and Rabbi David Wolpe was one of them. Here he is on the power of solitude:
“When he was a child, the Seer of Lublin (later a famous Hasidic master) used to go off into the woods by himself. When his father, worried, asked him why, he said “I go there to find God.” His father said to him, “But my son, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” “God is” said the boy, “but I’m not.”
Solitude is the school of the soul. Why was it Pascal who said that all of our problems come from not being able to be in a room alone? Not solely because he was an introvert, but because he was a deeply faithful man and religion not only emphasizes community but helps cultivate solitude. “Moses received the Torah from Sinai,” says a classic rabbinic text, and Abravanel, the 15th century commentator, asks — why Sinai? Why not “from God?” His answer is not that Sinai is a synecdoche — that it stands for God — but rather that Moses needed the experience of aloneness on Sinai to be ready to receive the Torah. No mountain solitude, no revelation.
Introverts people their solitude — with books, with imagination, sometimes with God. Hitbodedut, aloneness, is a traditional Hasidic practice in which the worshipper goes off alone. Sometimes he will scream, or cry, or contemplate, but it is essential that the eyes of the world do not push or pull in that moment. Influence is important, but in aloneness is freedom. Those of us who stand on the side at the party, or prefer not to go, do not devalue others. We just find that we can be truest to them when we have stored up quiet moments in the private reservoir that nourishes our souls.”
If you’d like to know more about Rabbi David Wolpe and his work, please go here:
One of the pieces of my recent TED talk that has attracted the most interest is the idea that the world’s major religions feature stories of seekers (Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus…) who go off, by themselves, to the wilderness, where they have revelations that they then bring back to the community. No solitude, no revelations.
I’m always interested in different manifestations of this idea — and high school student Faique Moqeet just referred me to this fascinating passage. Hope you enjoy it:
“For instance, if a man ceases to take any concern in worldly matters, conceives a distaste for common pleasures, and appears sunk in depression, the doctor will say, “This is a case of melancholy, and requires such and such prescription. The physicist will say, “This is a dryness of the brain caused by hot weather and cannot be relieved till the air becomes moist.” The astrologer will attribute it to some particular conjunction or opposition of planets. “Thus far their wisdom reaches,” says the Koran. It does not occur to them that what has really happened is this: that the Almighty has a concern for the welfare of that man, and has therefore commanded His servants, the planets or the elements, to produce such a condition in him that he may turn away from the world to his Maker. The knowledge of this fact is a lustrous pearl from the ocean of inspirational knowledge, to which all other forms of knowledge are as islands in the sea.”
-The Alchemy of Happiness, Imam Al-Ghazali
Hi everyone, here’s a guest post from the insightful Ben Dattner, of Dattner Consulting, and author of The Blame Game, on how organizations can harness the strengths of their introverted employees. Do you have other ideas to add? Would love to hear them. In the meantime, here’s Ben:
“The fantastic success of Susan Cain’s Quiet demonstrates that she has tapped into something very important in our culture and our society at this moment in history.
Inevitably, corporations and many other kinds of organizations will realize the implications of Susan Cain’s work for their practices and cultures. Here are some very preliminary suggestions of what organizations might do to better “hear” introverts who may be “quiet” but still have tremendous value that they bring to the workplace each day:
- Examine “competency models” and performance appraisal systems criteria to ascertain whether there is a bias towards evaluating and rewarding extroverted behaviors over introverted behaviors.
- Write comprehensive job descriptions that inform people how much interaction, networking, collaboration and advocacy are required in positions before candidates take the jobs. This will enable introverts to self-select out of jobs that they might not thrive in. “Realistic job previews” in general are very useful.
- Utilize feedback mechanisms, such as online surveys or other kinds of anonymous “suggestion” boxes, wherein introverts can feel comfortable sharing feedback and suggestions that they might not feel comfortable sharing in a public forum.
- Employ “polling” or similar strategies to solicit and consider the perspectives of all members of the team or organization, so everyone has a voice, even if they are reluctant to fight for attention in a public setting.
- Ask members of a team if they would like time on a meeting agenda in advance of the meeting, so that more introverted team members can influence the agenda in advance without feeling like they have to be “the squeaky wheel” in a meeting or to compete for airtime.
- Structure debates so that members of a team have an opportunity to argue “pro” or “con” any given issue or strategy in subteams. While an introvert may not feel comfortable soliciting support and loudly advocating a point of view, he or she might be comfortable participating in a discussion in a smaller team.
The above suggestions are meant to be a point of departure, and not a point of arrival. Corporations and other kinds of organizations, of any size and in the US and abroad, can benefit from thoughtful consideration of Susan’s excellent book and how much it is resonating with so many people.”
If you’d like to hear more from Ben, you can find him here.
*In other news, I’m afraid that in a previous blogpost on happiness, I used an excellent cartoon by Andrew Matthews on the nature of happiness, without crediting him or asking his permission. My apologies, Andrew! More happily, I’ve since checked out more of Andrew’s work, and it’s really quite wonderful. I won’t post it here, but here’s a link if you’re curious.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen, from “Anthem”
Take a look at this Anderson Cooper interview of Adele, on her discomfort with fame — and her stage fright:
(Plenty of extroverts suffer stage fright too, of course, and some introverts love the stage — but see what you think.)
“Adele: I wanted to be a singer forever. But it’s not really my cup of tea. Having the whole world know who you are.
Cooper: It’s not your cup of tea?
Adele: No. I find it quite difficult to think that there’s, you know, about 20 million people listening to my album that I wrote very selfishly to get over a breakup. I didn’t write it being that it’s going to be a hit….
Cooper: The other baffling thing about Adele is that - despite being known for the power of her live concerts - in front of audiences she experiences near crippling stage fright.
Cooper: How does it manifest itself?
Adele: It starts from the minute I wake up. If I know I’ve got a show, it starts. I mean, I just try and putter around and keep myself busy and stuff like that. And then I got to go down and sit in the chair for a couple hours, have my hair and makeup done.
Adele: But it has gotten worse as I’m becoming more successful. My nerves. Just because there’s a bit more pressure and people are expecting a lot more from me.
Cooper: So what’s that fear?
Adele: That I’m not going to deliver. I’m not going to deliver. That I’m not going to- people aren’t going to enjoy it. They’re- they’re going to- that I’ll ruin their love for my songs by doing them live. I feel sick. I get a bit panicky.
Cooper: Have you ever thrown up?
Adele: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. A few times.
Adele: Yeah. Projectile. Yeah. ‘Cause it just comes (makes noise) it just comes out. It does….”
OK, so how many of you know what Adele’s talking about? (I am raising my own hand.) Thank goodness I’ve moved beyond the projectile vomiting phase of dealing with my own stage fright, but I so relate to Adele’s determined puttering on the day of an appearance.
Speaking of which: here is the latest news from the QUIET Book Tour:
QUIET is on the New York Times Bestseller List for the second week in a row, at #5!
WHYY’s “Radio Times”: my one-hour interview on WHYY Radio.
Fortune Magazine: Why Silence is Golden: The Weekly Read. A review of QUIET, and a look at introverts in the workplace .
Ladies Home Journal: a wonderful Q and A.
Buffalo News: Terrific review of QUIET.
Courier-Journal: discusses QUIET and the role of introverts in it’s What’s Hot section.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: lovely review of QUIET.
Reuters: Very nice review of QUIET.
Metro NY: Why It’s OK to be an Introvert.
QUIET is now the #1 Hardcover Nonfiction bestseller on the Heartland Indie Bestseller List, and debuted at #10 on the LA Times bestseller list.
THANKS AS ALWAYS for all your support.
Ever since I started blogging about introversion a year ago, I’ve received literally thousands of notes from police officers and pastors, from schoolteachers and artists and stay-at-home moms. Here’s one reader’s story that captures the kinds of responses I’ve been getting:
“I pursued a promotion at work and was told ‘You’re smart, you have great ideas, and you have done great things for our hospital. Unfortunately you are too quiet for the job.’ I am a nurse, I just obtained my Master’s in nursing administration and I have a research paper that has been submitted for publication in an international nursing journal. It frustrates me that I have to fight tooth and nail for everything simply because I am ‘quiet.’”
A minority of letters are from introverts who are happy to be themselves, and have never felt pressured to conform to extroverted norms.
Judging from her February 12 review of QUIET in the New York Times Book Review, Judith Warner, a self-described introvert, falls into this latter group. But without any evidence, she asserts that most other introverts do too. Perhaps those who work in corporate boardrooms suffer a bias against their personality style, she concedes. But other introverts are “quite contented with who they are and… feel the world has been good to them.” If only I had “spent more time in research laboratories, for example, or among economists, rather than businessmen and –women,” I would “undoubtedly” have realized this.
Ironically, as I sat down to write this post last Saturday (I saw an early copy of Warner’s review), a tweet arrived in my inbox from a molecular biologist:
“reading your book- and tearing up at the recognition of how, to this day, I still feel something is wrong with me (but I am slowly getting to the acceptance stage of it – and just being who I am.)”
It was followed on Tuesday by a letter from, yes, an economics professor, who said that the book helped him understand himself for the first time, and that he’s ordered extra copies for his students.
While researching QUIET, I interviewed hundreds of introverts from all walks of life who told me much the same thing as these two letter-writers. And in the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to address audiences who work in exactly the sorts of fields Warner imagines are safe havens for introverts: economists at the U.S. Treasury, scientists at the research firm Noblis, librarians (librarians!) at the American Library Association, and engineers at Google and Microsoft. Most people in these audiences identified themselves as introverts, and at each event they lined up afterwards to tell me privately about their own difficult experiences in a world, and a workplace, that favors extroverts. Many said they’d never felt permission to express these things aloud.
Warner also maintains that by the end of QUIET I’ve widened the definition of introversion to include “all that is wise and good” — and here she quotes from a list of traits I included in an Authors Note at the end of the book: “reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.”
I doubt that most readers think that being shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned, and unassuming counts as everything wise and good. But putting this aside, Warner badly misunderstands the point of the Authors Note, which explains why I chose to write about traits such as shyness and sensitivity in a book about introversion. At its heart, my book addresses introversion from a cultural point of view. It’s about the age-old dichotomy between the “man of action” and the “man of contemplation,” and how the world would be a better place if we valued the two types equally. The list of adjectives Warner quotes are how I described the classical “man of contemplation.” My point wasn’t that introversion is identical to shyness, sensitivity, or the other traits I listed, or that all introverts are necessarily risk-averse or modest, but that culturally these traits have always been bound together under the “contemplation” rubric, and need to be addressed as such. Throughout the book I took pains to identify which trait I was discussing at any given time.
(Incidentally, I listed an equally mixed bag of desirable and unflattering traits under the “man of action” rubric: “ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold, and comfortable in the spotlight.”)
I believe that introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, and that introverts today are roughly where Western women were in the 1950s and 60s – too often discounted because of an attribute that goes to the core of who they are, but poised on the edge of great change. Judith Warner’s reaction to QUIET has an interesting precedent in the early years of feminism. Many women were eager to start a conversation that would lead to real social change. But a distinct minority felt proud and content as they were, and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
This minority was speaking their own truth, and that is a good and legitimate thing to do. But their personal experiences didn’t make sexism any less real.