Getting Fired Up, Quietly, about… Introversion and Sensitivity

April 4, 2012

There is an angel bent over every blade of grass whispering, “Grow!  Grow!”

This may be why grass is generally so short.


I’m a bit enchanted by Susan Cain’s Quiet, a book whose principle characters (i.e. Elaine Aron, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) include voices I’ve long known and much appreciated.

My first point for today’s blog is to sound a mournful note of compassion for students far and wide who are putting themselves back together in the face of rejection as the blood and dust settle in the wake of the absurdist ritual known as college admissions.

The psychology of competition, elitism and scarcity are such that the more difficult something appears to be (expensive, rare, etc.) the more it is treasured and thus the higher the price (financial, emotional, etc.) becomes… until, at some point, the bubble of delusion and inflation inevitably burst.  Trees do not grow to heaven.

Thus I am both wishing love and hugs to young kids who have put themselves out there in the most personal and vulnerable sorts of manner, only to be told that they did not quite measure up.  This s a brutal process that appears a sacrificial rite of spring promulgated by bogus and inflated would-be rain-makers (brain makers?  connection makers?  status makers?  heart breakers?).

I’m not too interested in deconstructing our manic culture of extraversion so much as encouraging a quieter listening for the rise of something kind, connected and more authentic.  I believe that spirit counts and I invite you to join me in wishing love, confidence and mending to kids who may be taking their “no’s” personally.

No makes sensitive kids wonder, was it my essay, my scores, my grades, my background, my what that made some other kid get chosen?

Applying to college is a loud and extroverted fracas, a sell-yourself sort of awkwardness that makes me particularly want to put arms around the sweetest of the kids, the ones who lack guile, and also those who tried to out-tiger all the others and still tasted dirt in the end.  They’re kids.  It’s we who should know better, who should not be playing Hunger Games with our babies.

Perhaps it is up to us introverts to raise our own esteem and consciousness, to take stock and own that we may have some solid ideas on how to do things differently; and to pragmatically accept that “no one” (meaning currently dominant culture) cares what we think precisely because we are not extraverted and brash.

Maybe it’s time for us sensitive sorts to carry our sensitivity more proudly, to see that it is a gift and a valuable part of a balanced culture.  Perhaps we will not get the loud to listen, but we could stop trying to catch a meaningless ride on the loud cloud.  We could think more quietly, we could listen more to each other, the formerly overlooked people in our own sphere; we could re-think what we personally wish to seek and promote and, upon reflection, begin to buy that which is sensitive, reasoned and introverted.

We vote with our money, and we “pay” with our attention.  Perhaps our feverishly burning culture is akin to cleavage, of which Jerry Seinfeld counsels that one should “look, and then look away.”

So… Introverts unite!  But only very loosely.  Unite, but don’t come over to my house (or at least call first).  Better yet, let us employ our powers of poetic imagination to realize that we are indeed, and already, united and voting with our hearts and minds for a pendulum swing back toward realness and away from empty, cynical and money-extorting hype.

Susan Cain inspires by stepping up and playing the extravert game in her own style.  But what really excites me is that Cain helps me realize that I don’t even have to be like her (book tours and talks; I could try for more of that, but I don’t have to).  If my metric is not Ivy League, or NY Times “best seller” or what have you, perhaps I, we, participate in a radically different world in which our group and its spirit, heart and ethics become a sort non-personal or personified hero rising to its own collective hero’s journey, and not from the glory of any particular one of us.

For years I had a “fear of success” and I could not explain it to those who would seek to encourage me, to whisper “grow, grow.”  My fear, I sense, was to become empty and hollow in the pyrrhic victory of soulless “success.”  But when I look at what our culture has become, what is “famous,” and what hyped-up mediocrity passes for brilliant, great and amazing I realize that the mind we carry with us from childhood knows what it knows, and it knows what is crap.  It just turns around and lies to itself in order to fit in, to be popular, to be “cool.”  That, as I mature, strikes me as a dangerous sort of failure.

Thus we need the courage to keep it real, to actually care about each other without conforming to some monolithic and saccharine crunchiness any more than we conform to some monolithic and inane idiot wind of the social media.

We don’t need to take our stand against extraversion on steroids, rather we need to take our stand, together, for realness.  Authentic extraversion?  Fine.  It’s those cloying and doomed-to-suck attempts at mimicry and conformity of the dominant, brash, deeply unnourishing culture that ties us introverts into hopeless and hapless knots.  Opt out.  Let it go.  Perhaps try to connect with us fellow introverts and see if you don’t move from virtually invisible toward interwoven and included, visible as a trend more than as any given spokesmodel for nothing but one’s self.

People always point to Gandhi as a quiet example of world-changing.  Yet it’s been quipped that it took a lot of money to keep Gandhi living in poverty.  Maybe our new world is better served by an even quieter, leaderless and organic rising consciousness.  Perhaps we are co-creating that very consciousness as we write, think, care and love.

Meanwhile I’ll see you in the secret quiet cafe, the lovely inward-growing garden, along the trail one forges through the wild and wooly authentic unconscious, and in the soft-spoken corridors of life well-lived according to our own terms.  Sure, we’ll need a little money along the way but even then we need to embrace and trade in our own economy, make our own marketplace founded on spiritual wealth before material.  Then we will have trust, honest exchange and we will be the market-makers.

Then we will arrive at what the trees-grow-to-heaven crowd will never have:  enough.

Perhaps if we give ourselves some space and time to think and breathe, to create what interests our soul-Selves, daring to transcend the rushing time-frames of hyper-competitive preschool admissions, and middle-school, and high-school, and college, and graduate school, and corporate director, VP, President, pundit, I-am-my-resume and my prizes and then my tombstone as identity… perhaps we quieter sorts might tumble into a different consciousness, a boon of spirit gold and a genuine ability to craft things and ideas, lives and loves—co-crafting a consciousness of loving kindness deeply rooted in pragmatism and thus able to reach its branches toward real clouds.

And maybe we’ll do a little better by each other and all our collective children.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen @ Motherese April 4, 2012 at 11:21 am

After your post last week, I added Susan Cain’s book to my wish list; after this week’s, it’s moving into the shopping cart.

At the boarding school where I used to teach, the girls used to hang their college acceptance and rejection letters on the doors of their rooms, as, I guess, badges of honor for their time in battle. I’d like to think that their display of the “bad” along with the “good” was also a symbol of their claiming their own worth, of their saying that the word from John Q. Admission didn’t mean as much as he thought it did. But I know those rejection letters stung, and that an extra long chat at bedtime and a few extra chocolate chip cookies meant more during those weeks than they usually did.


Bruce April 4, 2012 at 11:50 am

I’ve got tears in my throat from reading your post today, and the march of time… I guess maybe it’s good for us still to virtually share our triumphs and our wounds, claiming at our rabbit and turtle paces our own identities, individual and collective.

I for one am never too old for long chats at bedtime and cookies as loving balm to slings and arrows we all encounter.


pamela April 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Bruce I love this. And I love that you and Kristen have such synchronicity today – “we could stop trying to catch a meaningless ride on the loud cloud.” LOVE IT.

I have been away from my computer for weeks and am so thrilled to come back to this. I was just talking to another Waldorf mom the other day who was frantic about how are kids are going to “catch up” to all the Tiger Moms’ kids. I told her that our kids probably won’t catch up in terms of languages learned or algorithms calculated or sports played but I don’t really care. Someone has to write the poetry and fix the cars and cook the food and build the homes and teach the children and if my kid is one of those people I will be honored. Thank you for validating this faint voice in my heart. It just got stronger – xoxo


Bruce April 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm

And thank you, Pamela, for being a kindred spirit in our shared poetic quiet world. Perhaps our faint voices will rise together and allow us, along with others who roll and resonate in this sort of way, to realize that we are not alone, not lacking in love given or received. XO


BigLittleWolf April 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Having been through that incredibly long and wretched process of college applications last year (and simultaneously, portfolios as well as financial aid / scholarships) – I can only say – thank God it’s over. Twice.


And here’s to this: encouraging a quieter listening for the rise of something kind…

For all of us, in everything. The “crazy” frenzy just seems to keep getting crazier. As the French would say – et à quoi ça sert?

I don’t get it.


Bruce April 4, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I remember well your posts on your boys’ process—brutal indeed, but the mere fact they seem to flourish and you soldier on through the empty nest gives me hope that I too shall adjust.

While I don’t get it either, BLW, it’s nice to have people who get other, quieter, things, and with whom we can not get the crazy frenzy together.


Katrina Kenison April 5, 2012 at 3:27 am

“The lovely inward-growing garden, along the trail one forges through the wild and wooly authentic unconscious” — Bruce, I love this image so much. It is where I’ve been living exclusively for a while now, holed up in my older son’s bedroom, confronting myself, seeing no one, struggling to write, failing mostly. Hard as it is, I have also found something of value in my long silence, value to me at least. Your compassion and understanding here is profound. In a way I WOULD like to be one of those people who sit down with you over lunch in the real world. But I also know that these meetings, which take place in the realm of hearts and words labored over, are equally precious. Thank you for being you!


Bruce April 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

Hi Katrina, So lovely to receive these words this morning, a bit bleary eyed from a restless dark night of the soul in this seasonal dark passage through ancient vegetative gods on the way to Easter, Passover and the eternal things signified by flux and transition and soul-making. I sensed your spirit, from across the transom, before your comment arrived, and thus it affirms intuition and allows me to double down on my kindred best wishes as you navigate worlds inner and outer. Meanwhile you and Rolf are with me every day, each gem synchronistic and arriving right on time.


Mark April 5, 2012 at 6:03 am

Hi Bruce,
This piece reminded me a bit of my process with my own daughter. I wanted her to be like me: delay college, perhaps forever! But at least for a few years. I was even willing to pay her not to go. Nevertheless, the power of her peers was greater than all the money and dad-urging could exert. Since graduating, however, she has made large chunks of her life available for things that have to do with authenticity and vulnerability and love.
Keep up the good, quiet work.


Bruce April 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Cheers, quietly, to you too, Mark—and your daughter.


Linda Hagerty April 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Nelson Mandela: “And as we let our own light shine, we give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence liberates others.” Thank you for quietly, authentically shining. Would it be too intrusive to request that you add a link to facebook so that I can share individual posts with my online community of teachers and parents? Teaching low achievers and parenting high achievers leaves me with little time for reflecting deeply, and no time for writing deeply. You frequently evoke the deepest, truest, most essential parts my heart and spirit. As I slowly move toward liberation from fear of rejection, I want to share with others that which enriches me. Posting and sharing allows me to gently shine my light a little bit farther and to start some wonderful conversations. Thank you for considering my request.


Bruce April 5, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Hi Linda, And thanks so much for your very kind words. I’m rather excited about this idea of moving “toward liberation from fear of rejection,” especially about doing this together, through connections born of authenticity.

As for Facebook, I’m not quite clear on how I “add a link” but I do try to remember to post a link at my Facebook (which I otherwise never much visit) when I post at my blog:

otherwise, perhaps subscribing by email to this blog would let you forward to your readers?

Either way, I certainly send you All Good Wishes


TheKitchenWitch April 6, 2012 at 9:55 am

As a former high-school teacher, I know all too well the anxiety, pain and self-doubt that goes along with this process. Heart-wrenching. And yet part of me just wanted to shake those kids and say, “These four years aren’t going to define you. You find yourself over time, in small moments, and nobody can tell you who you are in a one-page letter.”


Bruce April 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Hi KW, I guess we’re like a muddled martini: shaken, heart-wrenched and stirred at the same time. Meanwhile, here’s to kids knowing that they are loved and lovable long before they know who they are to ultimately become.

Cheers (and Happy Easter/Passover/Spring)


Wolf Pascoe April 8, 2012 at 8:09 pm

A rabbi named Zusya died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, “Why weren’t you Moses or why weren’t you Solomon or why weren’t you David?” But when God appeared, the rabbi was surprised. God simply asked, “Why weren’t you Zusya?”

— Martin Buber


Bruce April 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm

And Zusya said, “I don’t know—you tell me?” And then God said that She was just kidding. And then Zusya and God read a board book of I and Thou and had hot chocolate and everyone lived happily ever after. Hugs


rebecca @ altared spaces April 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

“a meaningless ride on the loud cloud.” love this line.

I laughed out loud at the invitation for the introverts to unite loosely…or call first.


Bruce April 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm

It’s all coming together, sort of :)


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri April 23, 2012 at 10:39 am

I purchased Cain’s book this week and can’t wait to read it.

Your essay depicts the feelings I had in applying to law school. I kept telling myself, if I get in, I will be worthy or more successful. What I didn’t understand or appreciate is that I was already worthy. My character, actions and words determine my self-worth. It’s a truth that gets swallowed up by the application process.


Bruce April 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm

A truth that is rectified, in part, by parenting—where we realize that if our kids are already worthy for just existing, perhaps we are too. From there we can contribute to each other and feel good together


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