I’ll Take That Now, Please…

Photo Attribution: return the sun

I’ve heard that every relationship has a spender and a saver. Assuming that this is true, then I am certainly the spender in our marriage. I suspect that part of the reason is that I don’t get numbers. Quantifying things makes absolutely no sense to me, and math courses were always the lowest grades in any of my educational pursuits. Whatever the cause, I have always had a tendency to purchase things, or come very close to purchasing something, without realizing the impact of how much it costs until I have already spent the money, or am about to spend the money. That has gotten me into more than one situation in my life. Karen is great for me like that, because she understands things like financial planning, and is able to explain the consequences of these sorts of things to me in terms that I can understand.

Now, that doesn’t mean that she tries to prevent me from getting the things that I want, but rather that she questions my getting what I want right now. There are two huge advantages to this: First, when we make the purchase, we’ve planned for it and are thus able to afford what we’re doing instead of just piling on more debt, as is the American way. Secondly, I frequently decide, after waiting a few weeks or months, that I really didn’t want whatever it was nearly as badly as I thought I did in the first place.

Like I said, she’s good for me like that.

Patience, it is said, is a virtue, and I do not have a reputation for patience. The words of my parents ring true in my adult life, however, that you appreciate something much more when you wait for it. Now that I fall victim to the temptation less frequently, I have a clearer perspective on just how much of an epidemic that instant gratification is in our culture. Because we can purchase whatever we want (and, in the case of most media, have it on our device and in our possession) immediately, I think that all of it has less value to us. For example, back when I listened to songs on the radio as a child (you remember radio…that free airwave thing that preceded iTunes?), I used to long for some of my favorite songs on tape, but couldn’t afford the entire album. I find that now, years later, purchasing those songs individually and having them readily available to play whenever means a lot to me, because it’s like I waited years to own them. Conversely, the random new release albums that I buy occur to me later, and are almost forgotten in a lot of cases.

When what we have means less to us, we’re left with an attitude of disposability. That is, when something breaks, we simply throw it away and replace it, because it didn’t mean that much to us in the first place. Because we define our individualistic culture by what we have, rather than who we are, we generalize this to the human plane as well as the material. Thus, when a marriage appears broken, we simply throw it away and replace it. It seems that if we hold something in higher esteem, though, we work to repair it, we don’t just leave it behind.

Just before our daughter was born last year, I eagerly awaited the new season of Haven‘s arrival on Hulu. The first episode of the season had me hooked, as always, and I waited and waited for weeks for episode number two. As we don’t have cable (you remember cable…that overpriced, unreliable subscription model that people used before ad-based alternatives like Hulu?), we rely on Hulu and Netflix for our television viewing. After several weeks, I checked with Hulu to see why no new episodes had been posted. The series details stated that all episodes would be available for streaming at the end of the season airing.

I can’t wait until then!!! impatient Dave cried. I must watch Haven now!!!! So, I opened iTunes, and purchased a season pass. All the episodes to date downloaded, and I began happily watching.

A week later, all of them were available on Hulu.

Now, I had only wasted about $30 in the whole process, but the point is that I could have waited. I didn’t  have to watch Haven immediately, and I would have enjoyed it just as much or more had I waited another two weeks. And so, I learned a lesson. When CBS stopped posting episodes of one of our favorite programs on their website or anywhere else, we simply decided to stop watching the program. And, you know, we’ve survived with no complications to our lives whatsoever.

This goes for the rest of life, as well. Waiting is a sort of spiritual discipline, and, as we near a major life and career move in the near future, I find myself appreciating it all the more now that we have waited nearly two years for it to happen. If, then, waiting leads to increased value in things and people on whom we wait, then it inversely (and accurately) places less value on the things for which we didn’t wait. Karen and I are in the process of downsizing our apartment in preparation for a move, and this, too, is a spiritual exercise. Freeing ourselves from the hold that stuff has on our lives is extremely liberating. The furniture that we purchased specifically for this apartment is the first to go, but that bookcase that was willed to me by my grandmother will be carefully looked after.

There’s a friction between the wisdom of reigning in our desire for instant gratification, and the hyper-marketed, materialistic society in which we exist. We all succumb to that friction at some point, but I’m hoping to give in less in the future.

A Review of “Quiet”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While the title of “Quiet” intrigued me, and Cain’s interview on NPR piqued my interest in the book, it was, as always, a recommendation from a friend that tipped me over on the decision to read. I’ve spent a good deal of my post-college days attempting to fit myself into what Cain refers to as the “Extrovert Ideal,” and, as a relatively recent out-of-the-closet introvert, I’ve enjoyed reading material on the psychological evidences of introversion, in the way that someone does when they’re looking for affirmation that they’re still a functioning human being without any critical psychoses that require attention. What Cain does, though, is of even more interest to me, and that is to address how introverts struggle in a culture that prizes extroversion and views an introvert as someone who has something very wrong with them.

Now, before you find yourself thinking that Cain is launching into a conspiracy theory about how extroverts are taking over the world and the rest of us are left in the shadows to be forever forgotten, let me point out that Cain is, in fact, presenting a well-researched, well-balanced, and passionate exploration of how introverts can thrive in situations that ostracize them by nature, as well as the positives that extroverts contribute to society. She doesn’t shy away from condemning what requires condemnation, though, and begins by identifying the “Extrovert Ideal:” the structure of our culture which is constructed in a way to reward and set up as a role model the extrovert, the person who thrives in a crowd and is seen in the spotlight saying all the right things and knowing all the social graces. Her problem with the Extrovert Ideal is that it forgets the contributions of the introverts, or, worse, places them into a position where they cannot be productive in their special ways due to pressure to conform to a standard that they are simply not hard-wired to meet. This results in introverts making poor career choices because they receive the unspoken (or, perhaps, clearly spoken) message that something is wrong with them because they don’t enjoy being around people in large groups.

Cain, of course, brings prominent examples of introverts to the table, introverts whose work have changed our culture (Steve Wozniak and the first Apple computer, to name one). She also discusses at some length the trend in American public education to place students together in “pods” or groups that reward extrovert personalities while inhibiting introverted personalities from learning. Perhaps most compelling is Cain’s presentation of research that indicates consistently poor decision-making in a group context, as opposed to much more sound decision-making occurring when individuals work alone, regardless of whether or not they are introverts. This is particularly impactful to anyone who suffers through the endless meetings of the corporate world in which nothing is ever accomplished.

My wife and I have long discussed that we meet each other in an interesting place on the introvert-extrovert continuum: I am a social introvert, she is a shy extrovert. Cain confirms the existence of this continuum, using the terminology of high and low “self-monitors.” This discussion occurs within the context of introverts assuming a certain role that is out of character for them in order to accomplish a specific task about which they are passionate, as well as those who pretend in order to get through the day in careers which make them miserable. Both are survival skills, one is more effective than the other.

More fascinating research results discussed by Cain are current observances of behaviors in small children, and how future introverts and future extroverts process unexpected stimuli differently in infancy. Cain uses this research in the context of enforcing that we cannot choose to be introverted or extroverted, but are quite simply born as one or the other. She insists, however, that this must be balanced with the knowledge that we can control the extremes of our natural tendencies…as Jung said, anyone on either extreme end of this continuum would be insane. Thus, all of us have a bit of both tendencies, and this is healthy.

To list all of the perspectives Cain presents in this book would be far too lengthy for a review, and would not do her work justice. This book was very impactful to me, especially in her concluding call and encouragement for introverts to make the changes, accepting that we are who we are, to either make reasonable adaptations that we can live with in order to pursue our passions, or to leave the way that we are merely surviving in order to pursue our passions. There’s a danger here, of course, in the sense that an attitude of entitlement can suddenly exist when one is told that she is a member of a group who, unable to help who they are, have been oppressed by the culture and prevailing attitudes of those around them, leading to a sudden demand for unrealistic change and compensation. If taken to its extreme conclusion, Cain’s call to action could certainly be seen this way. However, to see this book through such a lens would fall into the same fallacy as being on the extreme ends of Jung’s continuum: the sanity of such a calling would be in question.

Ultimately, this is a worthwhile read for absolutely anyone, because it speaks to our businesses, our schools, our social strata, and how to best appreciate the humanity of, and interact with, those around us, regardless of their introversion or extroversion. As Cain’s concluding remarks state, introversion is not something that needs to be cured. We can as easily infer from this that extroversion is not, either. Cain’s book helps those among us who prefer to work in quiet to accept who we are, and to recognize that co-existence with those unlike us is not the pipe dream we once considered it to be. Whoever you are and whatever your interests, do yourself the favor of reading this book.

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