I’m nearly at the end of listening to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s a well-researched and nicely-structured discussion about how introverts differ from extroverts physically, psychologically and temperamentally, and how American society undervalues the contributions of introverts.
I’ve identified as an introvert for the last 10 years or so. Before that, I believed I had problems with depression (which was situational), that I was socially awkward (because I was measuring myself against extroverts), that I might be autistic (because I was so different from other people I knew that I felt like a different species). Having come to grips with my introversion, I’m comfortable understanding my own needs and have developed an array of coping mechanisms for the kinds of social situations I encounter frequently.
When I tell people I’m an introvert, they don’t believe me. Other introverts don’t believe me because I am loud. Really, really loud. Embarrassing loud. Extroverts don’t believe me because I’ve spent so much of my time growing up among them, working with and for them, and being married to them, that I fake extrovert well. I grew up in a large family of mostly extroverts where the way you got what you wanted, whether it was second helpings at dinner or getting your sister out of your bedroom, was to yell. If you wanted someone’s attention, you didn’t tap them on the shoulder or stand in front of them until they acknowledged you. You stood wherever you were in the house and yelled until they yelled back.
I live in a house with two other people. My husband is an introvert raised by two introvert parents. His parents trained him from childhood to walk soundlessly over hardwood floors and to speak only when the other person was in the same room. You can tell he doesn’t like to yell by the fact that he does it only when he’s angry. My daughter is highly sensitive. From the time she was an infant, she would startle at sudden noises, shy away from strangers even with me present, refuse to speak up in groups. She cried easily and demanded that her clothes not touch her in certain ways. She hates yelling.
I’ve made it my mission this year to work on my loudness. We adopted my husband’s parents’ rule about not yelling between rooms, and that’s going well. I’m working on speaking at a reasonable volume. I’ve been making an effort to be more mindful of the volume of my voice, and have found that the results are wonderful! Peaceful, non-stressful dinner conversation. Discussions that don’t have the physical feel (to me) of arguments. Just turning down the volume has made a difference in the way we interact – we tend not to interrupt each other as much, and to say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” more often. If these little shows of civility are a result of turning down the volume at home, I think that my next mission will be to start speaking more quietly when in public.
If I were more quiet in public, I image that people would have to come closer to me to hear me. In coming closer, they would have to moderate their own voices. In such an intimate tête-à-tête setting, people would naturally become more conscious of whether they’re talking over each other, using kind language, saying inappropriate things. They would be better able to discern the effect their words had on their listeners. Widespread civility might result! I see the experiment now as necessary, and I’ll let you know how it goes. But you’ll have to lean in close to hear.