Dhaka, Bangladesh
The right to be quiet

The right to be quiet

You rarely raise your hand in class. You think before you speak. You spend more time in quiet activities, such as reading or writing, rather than partying. You like to have deep, one-to-one conversations with your close friends, but interacting with a room full of strangers is tiresome for you. Small talk is something you would rather avoid. In other words, you might be an introvert. But fear not, and take heart, because you're not alone. Approximately one third to one half of the population are introverts. What is introversion? According to Susan Cain, author of the bestselling book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking", introverts like to be in environments where there is minimal stimulation. For instance, when an introvert is doing a project for school, they'll be doing it by themselves with singular focus, whereas their extrovert friends will be huddled in a group, chatting and working together. While extroverts can go on for long without needing a break, introverts often need to recharge themselves after social interactions. According to Susan Cain's broader definition (which includes qualities usually found in highly sensitive people), introverts are naturally more responsive to all kinds of stimulation including lights and sounds. This is because their brains are wired differently. Research by psychologist Russell Geen finds that when people are doing maths problems, the introverts among them perform better when the noise level is lower, and the extroverts perform better when the noise is higher. No wonder extroverts enjoy studying in a large, loud group, and the introvert gets a headache at the prospect of working in a crowded environment. The hidden power of introverts In her book, Susan Cain challenges the negative view of introversion and discusses the many - and often overlooked - strengths of introverts. For example, studies have found that introverts get better grades than extroverts and have more academic knowledge even though their IQ is on average the same as extroverts'. Furthermore, since introverts are comfortable with solitude, they're often more creative. They are also better able to focus intensely and persist longer in their efforts. Similarly, according to research by psychologist Adam Grant, introverts are sometimes better leaders because they're good listeners and they allow other people to express and act on their ideas without interrupting them. On the other hand, typical extroverts may tend toward hastiness and risk-taking, introverts reflect deeply and plan ahead. If you are an introvert, you may have already noticed it by the way you start focusing on your studies way before your extrovert counterparts begin to get serious about their upcoming exams. Introverts are often more peaceful, they hate fighting. The moment things start to get heated and the extroverts seem to be engaged in a competition of raised voices, the introvert will quietly slip away to mull over the matter and decide how best to solve it. This is often more productive than confronting and blaming others. Since introverts are often soft-spoken, they're better at negotiating. They make their points calmly, and this non-aggressive approach allows the other person to actually listen without being defensive. Contributions of the quiet ones If you enjoy spending your leisure time in reading books or playing an instrument rather than hanging out with friends, you're going to be labelled as a nerd. First off, there's nothing wrong with being a nerd, i.e. being skilled or knowledgeable in one area and pursuing it passionately. Many people who changed the course of the world did so by focusing on their area of expertise. For example, Albert Einstein was an introvert who was focused on and passionate about his work, and, in following his passion, he achieved something extraordinary. As Susan Cain writes in her book, many important contributions in society came from introverts. Much like Einstein's theory of relativity revolutionised the scientific sphere, J. K. Rowling (another introvert), who spent six years writing the first book in the Harry Potter series, single-handedly created a phenomenon that took over the world. Facebook, which you might use every day, was developed by Mark Zuckerberg, who's been called an introvert. Even Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft, is an introvert. You can probably think of other influential figures such as Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in the political arena. However, in Pakistan (as in other extroverted societies such as America) we have a bias against introversion. We tend to prefer people who're dominant and talkative. However, as Susan Cain explains, "There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas." So the next time you find yourself being impressed by a good talker, think again. Personality change Apparently, most people are dissatisfied with their personality. They want to change who they are. But if introversion and extroversion are rooted in our biology, can we really change? Personality isn't all biological; the way we grow up and the activities we engage in influence our personality. This means that although we cannot dramatically go from being an introvert to an extrovert or vice versa, we can change old habits and adopt new ones. According to the concept of neuroplasticity, our brains continue to change throughout our lives in response to experience. That means that if you repeat behaviour enough times, your brain actually makes new neural connections. Start by making the small changes that can systematically improve your life. For example, if you're an extrovert and make hasty decisions that get you into trouble, resolve from now on to take time and reflect over things. In today's fast-paced world, we're all guilty of engaging in too much action and not enough reflection. All of us, introverts and extroverts alike, have our own unique strengths. The key is to remember to play to your strengths, and work on improving your deficiencies. Cain herself is an introvert, and she used the same strategy: she spent years analysing the research on the topic of personality, wrote a book about it, and then went out and worked on her public speaking skills. This is in line with Brian R. Little's Free Trait Theory, which states that despite our deep-rooted personality traits, when "personal projects" or goals we care about require us to act differently than our preferences, we can flexibly change our behaviour. A word of caution: Wanting to change is natural, but acting too much against one's personality has been proven to be exhausting. In the end, you can't become another person; and you shouldn't have to. Introversion and extroversion are equally valuable in different contexts. Beware of black-and-white thinking We're all a mixture of introversion and extroversion, although we may identify as one or the other. Like introverts, extroverts have their own good qualities - typically, they're enthusiastic, assertive, chatty, action-oriented, highly outgoing and adventurous. So don't think that introverts are somehow better than extroverts, or the other way around. In fact, research has shown that the best teams include a balance of introverts and extroverts; this harnesses the strengths of both types and leads to better end-results. People wrongly assume that one personality type is better than the other. Research reveals that when we label people according to whether they're in our group or not, our empathy and concern for people of the other group decreases. Remember that no matter how different we may seem to each other, scientists have discovered that 99.9 percent of our DNA is the same. Genetically, you're 99.9 percent similar to the person sitting next to you - that holds true whether s/he is an introvert or an extrovert! This is a time worldwide for all introverts to own their strengths, embrace their personalities and realise that they have unique gifts to give to the world. There's nothing wrong with taking time alone to recharge, or staying in to read a book when your more extroverted friends are bugging you to go out with them. You have a right to be quiet. The next time when someone criticises you for being soft spoken or your preference to work in a dimly lit room, don't mind them. Alternatively, you can tell them about Susan Cain's quiet revolution! Myths about introversion o Introverts are often called shy or anti-social, but that's not true. All human beings are social. It's just that introverts tend to prefer having quiet, deep discussions with close friends, whereas extroverts like to be in crowds, jumping from topic to topic and socialising for long periods. The reason introverts appear reserved is that they think hard and analyse things before they speak. They listen better and think deeper, and when they do speak, it is to contribute something meaningful. o When you're sitting in a room with your extrovert friends who're dominating the conversation, people might think you're not as smart as your friends. However, because you've spent your time in thinking and planning, you're more prepared to actually execute your ideas. That might be one of the reasons why introverts perform better in academics. o Just because they don't like small talk doesn't mean they have nothing to say. In fact, interesting conversations often take place with introverts, who can focus and reflect on the conversation and contribute meaningfully to it. Given their preference for intricate thinking, they often turn to the written word, through which they can explore complex ideas and express themselves. o Some people consider introverts to be too proud and self-centred. Contrary to this assumption, introverts tend to have greater modesty and humility. As Susan Cain mentions in her Ted Talk, that's the reason they often make good leaders as they are not focused on themselves or their ego. They go into leadership with humility, and are propelled by genuine passion for a cause rather than the desire to be in the spotlight. Cain says that this authenticity has its own power because people can sense their sincere passion and are motivated to support them. o Because introverts often like to regain their energy through solitude, they may come across as lonely or unhappy. However, loneliness is a feeling of wanting to connect but failing to do so, whereas introversion is a liking for solitude.

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