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“One Journey ~ Many Paths”



I was never so thrilled as I was the day I stumbled upon Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” i Thrilled. Relieved. Affirmed. Susan gave me permission to own who I was at my core. No longer did I need to declare sheepishly, apologetically, that I was an introvert. It turns out that the dearth of gregariousness in our culture was not always predominant or necessary. Perhaps I was born for another time. Or – there I go again – apologizing – perhaps I was born for just such a time as this!


“Quiet” talks about the development of ‘the extrovert ideal’ and the rise of what it calls ‘the mighty likable fellow.’ Cain takes us back to 1902, to the shift that occurred in the now renowned Dale Carnegie from worrisome farm boy to public speaker extraordinaire. Somewhere around that time America had shifted from what cultural historian, Warren Susman identifies as the Culture of Character to the Culture of Personality. In the former our ideal self is serious, disciplined, and honorable with a focus on how one behaves in private. With the latter, we turn to a concern over how we are perceived, to a captivation with those who are bold and entertaining. As social roles began to change, we needed to change also. We became more performative in order to meet the demands of work and life that took us beyond the home and farm into our newfound industrialization.


I took the informal quiz in the introduction the other day – probably took it when I first read the book, although I didn’t record my answers. In fourteen out of twenty definite responses – there were a few on the line and a few definitely no – it showed that I am most certainly an introvert. This was no surprise at this point in my life! I have consistently fallen on the introverted side of the Myers-Briggs inventory for most of my years, only recently inching my way over the line toward extroversion, likely a product of my work and its expectations. And while I find it mostly fascinating, I can hear a little negativity there in the tone as I describe my placement and my journey. As if I was previously lacking and now am acceptable. These days I think of myself as an extroverted introvert! But the questions arise, “Was I always like this?” “Was I born this way?” Is it nature or is it nurture?” According to Cain it is a bit of both.


She cites the work of developmental psychologist, Jerome Kagan, and his longitudinal study of some five hundred children beginning at the age of four months and following them into adulthood. He had been studying temperament for a long time and in 1989 theorized that he could determine whether one would become an introvert or an extrovert based on a forty-five-minute evaluation. What he was testing for was reactivity and the upshot of it is that those who were most reactive – animated, agitated, loud – when exposed to sights and sounds and movement, would become introverts later in life. This was counterintuitive because you might think that the most animated would be the extroverts, their responses excited and full of pizzazz. But it turns out that those were the ones who were the most sensitive to the various exposures and thus was born, more or less, the idea of the highly sensitive person as something that we are hardwired for.


Now, I am here to testify that nurture does play a role. I may have had a propensity toward introversion, but it was shaped by my existence as well. I was an imaginative sort, tenacious, and not exactly what my parents might have expected from their little girl. I came of age in that era where the paradox of female identity was in full force. There was an expectation that I might be outgoing enough to attract a mate and settle down to the American dream and at the same time be demure enough so as not to upset the gender norm. It was after all, the early sixties. My shyness was affirmed in those years, perhaps it was more that my extroverted tendencies were not, and it has been a lifetime resetting the balance. And like anyone else, I was aware of cultural expectations for folks entering the workforce – something my parents hadn’t likely planned for – that I would be that outgoing person, unafraid of the crowds or of speaking my mind. My shyness became less an asset and more a handicap. And as a sensitive person, I felt that which, if we follow Kagan, tends to pull me closer into myself. I related to Susan Cain’s story of her abject terror at the notion of public speaking!


Fast forward to this spring and the publication of Dorcas Cheng-Tozun’s book, “Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul: How to Change the World in Quiet Ways.” ii The title jumped out at me. We heard Margaret read to us this morning from one of the opening chapters. There she cites the many ways we think about activism in our lives and world. These are the people who make a difference, we think. Now, I was an organizer in my twenties, but I played a support role, more behind the scenes. I marched, but I was not the one with the bullhorn!


Cheng-Tozun talks quite a bit about the highly sensitive person, finding in this personality type plenty of virtue. She says that the world has always had both ‘warrior kings’ and ‘priestly advisers.’ The warriors are out there – aggressive, prioritizing freedom, expansion, and fame, wanting more in the way of resources, land, people, and control. But they required the balance brought to the fore by the advisers – observers and listeners, thoughtful, compassionate, and creative. Without that balance, societies and cultures didn’t last long. Sensitive people, she says, are intuitive and meticulous, understand people well and can see both sides of issues. And unfortunately, they can be overlooked by Western culture with its propensity toward the warrior type. Social justice work is no different, a microcosm of the larger society.


And I want to say today that this has implications for us as a justice seeking faith community. Cheng-Tozun talks about some different roles than those we think of as the true activists:


Connectors utilize social capital – the bonding type and the bridging type. The first exists among those who share similar values and backgrounds, bonded by commonality. These can be healthy, but also insular and exclusive at times. Word to the wise here! The second type arises out of relationships that move beyond typical demographics, characteristics and social groups and take more effort to build and maintain. But they expand our knowledge, open up networks and increase tolerance and acceptance. She uses the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress on Racial Equity as an example.


i “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain; Broadway Books, New York: 2012.

ii Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul: How to Change the World in Quiet Ways” by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun; Broadleaf Books, Minneapolis: 2023.


Blessed be.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, April 21, 2024

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​Unitarian Universalist

Meeting House of Chatham
Sunday Services  10:30 AM

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