DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

April 4, 2013

Column: Introverts crave the quiet times

John Edmondson
Derry News

---- — Every weekday, many of my colleagues at Hampstead Middle School gather for lunch in the teachers’ room and talk about ...

Well, that’s just it. I have no idea what they talk about because I haven’t eaten lunch there for at least 10 years.

I prefer to eat alone in my classroom, where it’s quiet and peaceful, where I can spend my break reading the Washington Post online, or maybe writing a script for another edition of “Mr. Ed’s Historical Theater,” little one-act plays my sixth-grade students perform to help them understand the events that led to the American Revolution.

Does the fact that I often crave alone time make me an anti-social dweeb? No. It makes me an introvert. And for the estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of us who are introverts, Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” gives us permission to be ourselves.

I’ve never run with the pack. I’ve always had, since childhood, a small but tight circle of friends. I’m a great listener, but a lousy schmoozer. The only thing I despise more than small talk is a blowhard who’s hopelessly in love with the sound of his own voice.

I prefer one-on-one discussions about serious matters. Sorry, but I’m not that interested in what you had for breakfast this morning.

The words you’re reading are being written at 4:45 in the morning. It’s blissfully quiet, save for the gentle scraping of ballpoint pen across notebook paper and the tick-tock of the clock in my living room. Two cats, Max and Lily, lounge in front of me, but they aren’t scintillating conversationalists either, and I like it that way. As Susan Cain writes, “There’s a word for ‘people who are in their heads too much’: thinkers.” And writers, many of whom are introverts.

“Quiet” is not a diatribe against extroversion. To the contrary, Cain writes, “Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style.” But it’s a Facebook-put-yourself-out-there-friend-as-a-verb kind of world, and “we’ve turned extroversion into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

Actually, much of “Quiet” explains how introverts adapt in “a world that can’t stop talking.” The secret is to find a passion, and then, as one famous introvert, William Shakespeare, once said, “To thine own self be true.”

Cain herself is an introvert, but she was a successful Wall Street attorney because she learned how to “act” like an extrovert when she had to. Her love for her work allowed Cain to pull it off.

My students would be surprised to learn that I pull a fast one on them every day. I am more performance artist than traditional teacher. I’m loud. I’m bold. I take creative risks. Laughter erupts in my classroom. As one of my former students once told me, “You’re just like a kid.”

I teach the way I do because I love what I do. And when my day is done, I’m exhausted, perhaps because it takes enormous energy to play the role of someone, who, at my core, I am not.

I recommend “Quiet” to everyone, but especially to parents and teachers of introverted children who often struggle to negotiate the extroverted world. Words of wisdom from Susan Cain: “The next time you see a child with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.”

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John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.