Silent strength

Weakness in silence?

Recently I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet’. Underneath its elegant white cover, the book reveals the power of introverts and how the contemporary world misunderstands them. An inspirational and compelling idea. At school, university and in wider society, we are led to believe that the ‘best’ people are loud, outspoken and love socialising. As such, we ignore or underestimate those whose quietness has a strength in its own. By thinking before we speak and controlling our emotions, quiet people have the power to solve issues calmly and efficiently. However, this article is not about the power of introverts, it’s about how both introverts and extroverts can use the power of keeping quiet and thinking alone to their advantage. It’s about how extroverts should learn from introverts and how introverts can and should appreciate themselves.

Having time alone in the day to think can be very important. It is in these quiet moments that we process our thoughts and make sense of certain events, what they teach us and how we can learn from them. If we are always busy socialising, we don’t have the peace of mind to connect different thoughts and turn it into something thought-provoking. It is a bit like writing a diary. As such, we can concentrate on what we have experienced and understand its importance in our lives. We can make progress in knowing what we want in life and how we go about it. It is in the quiet moments of thinking that we reach into the deeper parts of the self and are faced directly with our identity.

Not only is quietness important in understanding ourselves, it’s also important in our work life and our relationship with others. By being quiet and not aggressively dominating the conversation, we can be active listeners and understand our friends better. By being attentive, we are able to form a closer bond with others. Also, quiet is a force in itself. If quietness is valued, we are endowed with a powerful weapon. In the business world, being quiet can be seen as a symbol of control. In business disasters, it is often the leaders who remain collected and give clear orders about what needs to be done. Fretting and being aggressive gets people nowhere. In human nature, we usually follow those who remain calm in face of problems as it shows one’s inner strength. Moreover, quiet can be important in negotiations. Instead of having outbursts and using loud threats, introverts tend to think before they speak and analyse the situation. By taking a step backward, they are able to see the bigger picture and present a sensible solution. By mastering quiet as a mode of being, we will be able to employ a useful tool in business and social situations.

Jenna Goudreau’s article ‘The Secret Power of Introverts’ published in Forbes magazine highlights that many modern icons are introverts and they have done astonishing things that changed society as we know today. A very good example is Rosa Parks, the woman who led to a people’s campaign for civil rights in America. Her quiet refusal to give up her seat to white passengers led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, arguably the most important event in the civil rights movement. It was this event that no longer was the civil rights movement about the black intellectuals and activists, it was about the voice of black people in America. Because of Rosa Park’s quiet refusal, hundreds of people took to the streets and the bus boycott continued for 381 days. The strength of a community and the willingness for personal sacrifice was overwhelming. Due to their continuous efforts, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a phenomenal success and marked an important stage in the Civil Rights Movement. John Conyers, an Africa-American U.S. Representative, said in a telephone interview with CNN in 2005 that ‘You treated her with deference because she was so quiet, so serene — just a very special person … There was only one Rosa Parks.’ Respect for Rosa Parks and the reason why so many people took to the streets was not because she was loud, it was because of her confident silence. She calmly voiced her refusal to stand up and this is a power in its own right.

Ultimately, this article is also about challenging our perceptions about others. We often view silence as a sign of weakness. However, quiet people can be strong too, just in a different way to extroverts. By appreciating others’ differences and not having fixed perceptions, we can become better and stronger people. Strength comes from the heart, not from the voice alone.

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