Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mapping the Types

“Asia…is introverted, Europe extroverted,” (186) Susan Cain quotes Robert McRae, the research psychologist, who mapped the world in terms of personality types. When I read this page from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I almost tripped upon the racist idea of ‘the chosen few’ in my mind. However, with her real life case studies and examples Susan Cain substantiates her argument quite effectively.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain analyses the two personality types seemingly in two poles of temperament, but mutually beneficial. ‘Part Three’ of Quiet has an interesting title: “Do all cultures have an extrovert ideal?” although the title seems intriguing, the content seems alarmingly complex. Cain takes off by giving real life examples of Asian-American students from Cupertino California.      
Image Courtesy: Google

“In the West, we subscribe to the Extrovert Ideal, while in much of Asia (at least before the Westernization of the past several decades), silence is golden.” (190) Robert McRae’s personality map, although, has a racist overtone, it also opens wide the horizons of realization for the largely extroverted western-oriented thinking. Although Susan Cain observes this dichotomy of the talkative and the quiet, the extrovert and the introvert, in the specifically American context, it is interesting to see how this really works in Asia, with an insider’s perspective.  

Within the Indian academic context, being an extrovert is preferred much like any of those American schools and colleges Susan Cain talks about. Special skill development programs are conducted for school and college students, in order to “improve” their interpersonal communication levels as well as fortifying the soft skills required for delivering effective presentations. In other words, being “gregarious” is the new mantra, here in the East, unlike what Robert McRae’s research suggests. Perhaps, recently, the situations have changed drastically.
Susan Cain: Image Courtesy: booksonthenightstand.com
Extroversion, like any other cultural notion, is inevitably relative. Robert McRae, with this ‘objectivity’ of an outsider, might have come across the largely introverted calm of the East; however, as an insider I cannot bring myself to comment that the social norms towards extroversion are much the same. Ever since I joined the public education system as a student, I remember hearing constant instructions from family and teachers regarding my introverted personality. I was told that I am an introvert and I should be one. Go out, meet people, play cricket with those kids playing near the temple, I was told.

Thankfully, my introverted temperament has an in-built capacity to imagine, read, and learn quietly, but in a better way compared to those who played cricket in the playground. I devised my own games, which included physical exercise as well as activities that enriched my internal life. However, for others, I lived mostly inside my head, and they disliked it. Due to the rigidity with which my personality type clung with me, I never forgot who I actually am.
Image Courtesy: Google

With the learning abilities that came along with the introversion, I was able to learn common tactics of social behavior, and socialize when required. Though this was done effectively or rather ‘performed’ effectively, as Susan Cain mentions, a lot of energy was spent in this process. Occasionally, I felt this business of role-play out of my control. This still happens sometimes, and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is appealing to me because of these personal experiences. What I mentioned here, might rhyme with many anecdotes shared by Cain in her book.

Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking will instill a confidence in every introvert that will push them less and less into regretting running into their rooms in the middle of a party or their solitary vacation with books. It will also instill self-respect.

For an extrovert person, on the other hand, Quiet is a guide in understanding the fact that introversion is a personality type, much like extroversion, genes and chromosomes.
Image Courtesy: Google
One is born with it, and sometimes, as a response to the social conditions one inhabits, this temperament becomes part of their lives. In Part Two of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, titled, ‘Your Biology, Your Self?’ Susan Cain suggests that there is a fifty-fifty chance of biological factors being the cause of the formation of personality types. But it’s fifty-fifty. No one knows for sure, whether it is biology alone, says Cain.

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