August 18, 2013

We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
By Susan Cain

I've spent a lot of time in my life wishing I could be a different kind of person. More extroverted, more talkative, more outgoing, more uninhibited, etc etc. When I was younger, I hated that I was so shy & quiet. I hated when people called me out on it, and I hated that it was sometimes mistaken for not having anything to say. I hated that I just naturally didn't have a loud voice nor felt comfortable projecting it. I still hate all of the above sometimes. I don't know if shy is even a word that fits me; I have often used it as one of the go-to adjectives to describe myself but I think doing so is doing myself a disservice. I like interacting with others and I embrace the opportunity to meet new people. I have good friends. I think that maybe I see myself as more awkward than I actually am and I don't hate social gatherings but actually really enjoy them most of the time. Regardless, if one could only choose either introvert or extrovert to describe oneself, I'm definitely an introvert. I'm--we're--all more complex than that but yeah, if it came down to those two terms. As a preteen I had really low self-esteem, the lowest it'd ever been until a few months ago when I'd gone through mostly positive transitions in my life and yet still started to feel pretty shitty about myself. I hadn't felt that low about myself in so long and the self-loathing had a lot to do with how I felt about my personality. I've been able to pull myself out of that slump and am again learning to love what I previously thought were the weirdest parts of me and wanting less to be like someone else.

What I like about this book is that it acknowledges a person can only change so much while also encouraging growth. I'm so glad this book was written because there are so many things Cain says where I'm like 'Oh my god, there's an explanation for why I do that!' and 'Yes! I'm not being weird and  anti-social, I just need space sometimes!' A couple excerpts:

"But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions--from the theory of evolution to van Gogh's sunflowers to the personal computer--came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there. Without introverts, the world would be devoid of:
the theory of gravity
the theory of relativity
W.B. Yeats's "The Second Coming"
Chopin's nocturnes
Proust's In Search of Lost Time
Peter Pan
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm
The Cat in the Hat
Charlie Brown
Schindler's List, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Harry Potter"
(p. 5)

"Schwartz's research suggests something important: we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead. A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems. And yet the elasticity that Schwartz found in some of the high-reactive teens also suggests the converse: we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities. 
These seem like contradictory principles, but they are not. Free will can take us far, suggests Dr. Schwartz's research, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer. 
We might call this the "rubber band theory" of personality. We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much."
(pp. 117-8)

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