Hidden strength of the quiet personality
June 03, 2009

by Jack Kennedy

Several years ago, every day I faced a quiet student in the front row of my English class. Every day I tried to get some oral response from this bright-looking soul in my class. He seemed awake; he Was, after all, in the front row rather than hiding in the rear ranks.

I was about to give up on eliciting spoken words from him when I read his first paper. It was creative, thoughtful, incisive, balanced--all those things a college English faculty member looks for.

Laurie Helgoe would be proud. The student had what she would call "Introvert Power."

There is hope for the quiet ones, those who do not believe that non-stop talking equates to brain power, happiness or success. That is Helgoe's premise in Introvert Power (Sourcebooks Inc.)

A psychologist, Helgoe survived her elementary school years, but not without some trauma. She now has a not-too-fatalistic tone as she tells us not to be ashamed of those quiet moments at times when others are far too outgoing for their own good. (She offers no solution for outgoing, ongoing, overbearing talking heads on tv, but, perhaps, someday they wll learn from their introvert relatives to stop, think and reflect before they open their mouths.)

Her philosophy is that one need not apologize for being introverted; in fact, Helgoe claims that most of us are secret introverts even when we pretend to be more demonstrative and vocal. (She could have noted that many actors and other public personalities are actually introverts. They play a role on stage as extroverts, but, may not be able to understand and properly interpret that role or song without their inner introvert judgment. Once out of the spotlight, they often are more subdued.)

One device Helgoe uses well is a series of boxes that cite examples of real people who have learned to cope with introversion. They demonstrate that a positive self image can be attained by the quiet ones who need not apologize for being who they are.

A nurse and mother says, for example, that most do not know she is an introvert because she often is put in the spotlight. However, she misses her "alone time."

The author notes that at work the introverted ones may be taken advantage of when they do not speak up. However, one quiet person remembers a boss who had a no-talking rule for the first five minutes of the work day. That was welcomed as a good idea.

Helgoe also has tips on how to handle different types of conversation. These include dealing with persons who expect an instant response to every word, meaningful or not.

There are also tips for how to become a little more outgoing when necessary--for interviews and other work or social situations. Helgoe does not recommend retreating into a shell and leaving the road of life for a quiet burrow. But she does recognize that lifestyles differ, perceptions differ and needs vary, too. A person need not apologize for being somewhat laid back.

Introverts are cool, she asserts, and there is nothing wrong with immersion in a good book or movie, a calm moment for reflection. "Introverts are not afraid of being alone," she says, "because [including herself] we know that solitude is generative. We prefer to take problems and work on them in isolation."

Quietly reading a book about introverts--or at least scanning a review about one--is a good way to spend some meditative, regenerative minutes.

Title - Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength

Author - Laurie Helgoe

Publisher - Sourcebooks Inc./288 pp. (7-01-08)/$10.95 at amazon.com

ISBN-10: 1402211171; ISBN-13: 978-1402211171

Our book review editor Jack L. Kennedy has written about education issues for decades in the Wichita Eagle, Lincoln Journal, New York Times, London Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, Executive Educator, Education USA and Education Week, among other publications. A former high school, junior high and university teacher, he has been president of the international Education Writers Association, developed a crisis reaction plan distributed internationally by Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, and currently works one-on-one with writers.

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