Book Review: Quiet

Shy. Weak. Unmotivated.

These are some of the words that might come to mind when the average person thinks about introverts. Most of us think of them as immersed in their own worlds, unable to cope with social situations, and less likely to contribute ideas and innovation compared to their extroverted counterparts.

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking seeks to explode these myths about introverts by examining the overlooked gifts that they bring to the office, the classroom, and society at large while understanding the underlying science behind introversion.

The book is composed of four parts. In the first, Cain begins, not with neuroscience or psychology, but culture. Specifically, she explores how modern western society came to embrace the “extrovert ideal.” This ideal embraces the outspoken, the fearless, and the gregarious over and above the quiet, the timid, and the intimate. Yet, as studies have shown, it is the gifts of introverts that actually lead to greater creativity and productivity in the workplace.

In the second part Cain explores the biology of introversion, highlighting research demonstrating that introverts actually process sensory input differently from extroverts. She also talks with experts researching the interaction between a person’s genetic makeup and environmental factors that may influence their  temperament.

The third part explores extroversion and  introversion  in other cultures, while the fourth gives concrete strategies for introverts and extroverts for dealing with the differences between the two. This includes a very interesting chapter on how parents can help their introverted children.

Cain includes an impressive amount of  interviews and anecdotes which serve to illustrate the research and studies she discusses. Cain talks with Harvard business students, an evangelical pastor, children, a beloved psychology professor, and others. These help to flesh out some of the drier academic content and put real human faces to the struggles introverts overcome.

If you have an introvert in your life you want to understand better — or if you are an introvert and want some strategies for living in an extrovert’s world — Quiet is the book for you.

Disclaimer: I recieved a free advance reader’s copy of this book from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.

Worrying About PK Syndrome

Heading back from the last of our diocesan Roman Missal workshops on Tuesday, a fellow diocesan director shared a story that confirmed a fear I’ve had for some time: that Preacher’s Kid Syndrome (the tendency for the children of Protestant ministers to rebel against the faith) is alive and well in the Catholic Church.  Of course, in the Church, it’s not the children of ordained ministers we need worry about, but the children of lay ministers working in parishes and dioceses. This director’s son no longer practices the faith, at least in part because of his experience seeing his father let go from a diocese for no other reason than the bishop wanted to “move in a new direction.”

This is something I’ve worried about for my own children. I’ve worked for the the Church in one way or another since I was 18 — full-time since I was 22, shortly before our oldest was born. Anyone who has worked for the Church knows that it isn’t the perfect, holy workplace that you might expect. The Church is full of sinners, and I’ve seen plenty of bad management, poor HR practices, and institutional politics to back up that truth.

Will my children be able to hold on to the faith while exposed to the very human side of the institution? Many of the DREs and other lay ministers I encounter talk about having children who have walked away from the faith. How many did so because of the  cognitive  dissonance between the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” and watching their parents struggle to work with other sinners on behalf of Christ?

I’d be interested to know if the National Association for Lay Ministry  or any other organizations have ever tackled this question: keeping our children in the faith when they grow up so close to the institution. There could be some real value in having some conversations around those sorts of close-to-home topics.

Tis the great fault of our age to underrate parental dignity

‘Tis the great fault of our age to underrate parental dignity. In the easy-going world, preference is given to profligate celibacy over honorable wedlock; marriage itself is degraded to the level of a purely natural contract, its bond has lost its character of indissolubility and its obligations are shirked to meet the demands of fashion and convenience. When parents, unworthy ones, do not appreciate their own dignity, how will others, their children, appreciate it? And parenthood will never be esteemed while its true nature and sanctity are ignored and contemned; there is no dignity where the idea of God is excluded.

– Rev. John H. Stapelton, Explanation of Catholic Morals (1913)

Respect has no substitute

Respect has no substitute; neither assistance nor obedience nor love can supply it or take its place It may happen that children are no longer obliged to help their parents; they may be justified in not obeying them; the circumstances may be such that they no longer have love or affection for them; but respect can never be wanting without serious guilt. The reason is simple: because it is due in justice, because it is founded on natural rights that can never be forfeited, even when parents themselves lose the sense of their own dignity.

– Rev. John H. Stapelton, Explanation of Catholic Morals (1913)

Thoughts for a New Father

My best friend and his wife recently found out that they will be welcoming their first child into the world this spring. At his invitation I sent him the following thoughts about fatherhood, having endured loved it through nine years and four kids. The remarks have been edited to remove personal information.

#1 – Congratulations! You are no longer in control of your own destiny.

Here’s the thing: you are now 100% responsible for another human being in this world. You have established a relationship that, short of death, cannot be severed or broken. (And I’m not even sure death breaks it.) You have to make sure that this little person is fed, cleaned, clothed, educated and loved. Every decision you make from here on out will have to include this as part of the equation — everything from “Should I take this new job” to “What type of milk do I buy for the family?”

So forget about the myth of the autonomous individual making his way in the world. It’s not true to begin with, and now that you have a child it’s even less true.

(By the way: Your wife is 100% responsible, too. It takes 200% to raise a child.)

#2 – You will be amazed at what you will endure for your child.

Let’s just get this one out of the way: within the first year of your child’s life you will be graced with the following bodily fluids flowing from your child onto your person: urine, poop, vomit, regurgitated milk, mucus, and a couple I still haven’t identified. If you have a boy, you’ll get it within six months. (Our oldest was so consistent about trying to pee on us that we had our own little maneuver when changing him: we’d take his diaper off, then immediately use it to cover him back up because you could be sure that as soon as fresh air hit him there would be a stream shooting up.)

The thing is, you won’t care one bit. I know I was worried about how I would handle these things, but the first time our oldest looked into my eyes, smiled, and vomited all over my shirt, I didn’t give it a second thought because I was so much more concerned about him and how he felt. The “oh-my-God-my-child-just-unhinged-his-jaw-and-spewed-on-my-leather-upholstery” reaction gets pushed out of your mind because you’re so focused on making sure that your child’s OK.

#3 – The most important thing you can do for your child is put your wife first.

This may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that your relationship with your wife is more important than your relationship with your child. It only takes a few minutes on Google to find statistics on how divorce and broken families screw over kids in major ways. You and I are both fortunate enough to come from families that, despite lots of trials and tribulations, have remained intact. I don’t know about you, but seeing my friends who have parents who are divorced, I’m extraordinarily grateful for that. Not that they aren’t decent, well-adjusted people, but I also know that they’ve had to endure a lot more crap in their lives than I’ve had to, even given my family issues. Having an intact family has been a great blessing in my life.

One of the promises I made to myself when my first child was born was that I would do everything in my power to ensure that he had that same advantage. Which, ironically, means that I invest more in my relationship with my wife than with the kids. Which, again, isn’t to say that I come home, throw some food into their room and say goodnight. But I want my kids to know that I love their mother and that they are a result of that love — and are loved as a result.

#4 – Decide now what your values are.

This is important for two reasons: a) so that you can pass on your values to your children, and b) so you know where you priorities are. The first is pretty straight forward: start thinking now about the lessons you want to impart to your child so that you won’t be reacting later on to lessons he’s learning somewhere else. (Children are sponges that soak up everything in their environment, whether you mean them to or not. This was hit home to me the first time my oldest started talking about Star Wars, even though I had never tried to intentionally pass it on to him.) And start thinking about what values you will and won’t allow into your house (via tv, the internet, etc.).

The second is a little more subtle. One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with is the things that I have to give up in order to be a halfway decent father. There are so many conferences, classes, and other opportunities out there that I would love to participate in that, if given the chance, I could be gone every other weekend. But I know (and my wife reminds me) that doing so would be a very bad thing for the family. So we compromise and work out what things I do and what I don’t.

The point here isn’t that I’m “paying the price” for putting my family first, but that my wife and I make those decisions together. If she thought we could maintain a happy home life together even if I was gone more often, then I’d be packing a lot more suitcases. But that’s not a decision I can make on my own. By talking through our values and how we’re going to put them into practice, she gives me a level of accountability that keeps me from doing anything to the family that would compromise my stated values. That’s a good thing.