Thursday, October 8, 2015

Off the Shelf: Quiet

No, that is not the shushing librarian speaking. It's the title of the book I just started reading—again.

If you recall, I've mentioned how dismally backlogged I've become in my reading. I've decided to amend my ways and catch up on all the books set aside in my bookcase after perusing the first few pages. I've gotten off to a fascinating start with my first book selection, Christine Kenneally's Invisible History of the Human Racethe book that took me to Florida and back, a little over a month ago. It's time to crack open the cover of another once-started good read.

I think I had made it to page seven of the book I'm revisiting this month, but hey, cut me some slack. In every book I tackle, I dutifully read all the introductory pages, too—even the snoozer labeled "Acknowledgements." One never knows when an interesting name might pop up.

Granted, the copyright on this book says it was a New York Times bestseller upon its release in 2012. I am a bit behind the times, now that I'm revisiting it in 2015. Now's as good a time as any, however, so it's Susan Cain's Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking that will be on my reading list for this month.

While I realize this book doesn't directly impact the world of genealogy, it does—at least for me—have an indirect correlation. As much as I've spent my life talking—as a radio announcer during my starving student years, teaching high school and college as a college grad, and even as I lead groups or instruct beginning genealogists now—I certainly rank up there with the shy ones. I am more the wallflower than the life of the party.

I am not alone. Some of the most vivacious genealogy friends I know have confided to me that they consider themselves shy. While I find that hard to believe in some cases, I respect people's self-revelations. There is likely an essence of truth in the matter.

It's when we lone researchers, happy to sequester ourselves in the back corners of libraries and archives, must venture out into the world that we realize we need to warm up our interpersonal skills again. And sometimes, they've gotten quite rusty.

I find myself in that predicament when I head to conferences. A long time ago, I found my best defense was the "offense" of making connections with others before the event begins—making plans ahead of time to chat over coffee, or sit out a session to interview an admired researcher or blogger. Being equipped with mobile phone numbers, Twitter, other social media, and even the apps provided by some conference organizers makes that possible.

Now that the genealogical institute season is upon us, I find myself feeling that need to pre-connect once again. A defense mechanism against the dreaded possibility of being all alone, that Chatty Cathy persona wants to rise up and take ascendancy over the more demure norm of everyday life.

But why? Susan Cain's book explores some aspects fueling that tendency. Reminding us that "at least one third of the people we know are introverts," Quiet's author delves into such realms as "the myth of charismatic leadership" and contrasts groupthink and "the power of working alone." She explores aspects of temperament through the eyes of both nature-versus-nurture and new ways of seeing it, and proposes alternate models to the old introvert-extrovert dichotomy.

Above all, this book promises to examine the power of quiet.

While this may be a draw for those who already confess their shyness—and there are apparently more in this camp than we may realize—it also may be a valuable read for those working with groups. Especially non-profit groups like genealogical societies. For it is those shy ones among our membership that we need to draw out, to get to know and understand their skills, interests and the valuable contributions they may make to the betterment of our organizations.

Groups whose leadership becomes skilled at drawing out those resources for the benefit of the organization—even when it involves learning more about those so reticent about blabbing away about themselves—may find themselves at the helm of a beneficial and timely synergy.


  1. I suspect the most introverted of people are actually the nicest.


    1. Many of them are certainly the most sensitive. They would notice the stuff no one else thinks is important.


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