Happy Memorial Day, everyone. My son-in-law, Joshua Rowe, thought I was a little hard on extraverts in my sermon today, which, of course, wasn’t my intention. Whatever personality God has given us is a blessing. But one of the points in today’s sermon is that “quiet” is good. The text: Psalm 46:10 — “Be still and know that I am God.”
That’s important because three odd things have happened to our society in the last 200 years.
First, we’ve gone from quiet to loud. In earlier eras, our world was quieter. People rose when the rooster woke them up. There were no alarm clocks, cell phones, morning news. They’d work outside in the fields with no blaring engines, traffic noise, radios or iPods. Only the wind blowing, birds singing, brook gurgling, dog barking. There was time to think, to pray, to nurture the soul. It was a quiet world.
But now because of the industrial and technological revolutions, our world will never be quiet again unless we create quiet zones for our lives. When the industrial revolution occurred, people started moving to cities and working in factories. Urbanization accelerated with people living and working together in close proximity with strangers. Companies needed a force of salesmen equipped with outgoing, aggressive personalities to market their products and to turn strangers into clients, door to door or from one store to another.
That led to a second odd thing: We’ve gone from esteeming introverts to glorifying extraverts. In past eras, introverted people were respected for their quietness. Extraverts were viewed as too talkative. Introverts were often thought to be deep and creative people. Indeed introverts are responsible for some of humanity’s greatest achievements. Today we’re worried if our children are introverts. It’s almost a bad word. We think everyone is better off being an extravert.
Third, as a result of this, we’ve gone from being a culture of character of a culture of personality. In earlier eras, when you read a self-help book the primary focus was character. I have some old original self-improvement books in my library. They are devoted to subjects like humility and courage and faith and kindness. Being a better husband. Being a better father. Obedience. Patriotism. Then in the early 1900s, Dale Carnegie wrote his famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It was a self-improvement book but it wasn’t devoted to character development but to personality development.
A new book by Susan Cain entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking says:
America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality—and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.
In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth.
But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining. “The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,” Susman famously wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.”
This shows up in so many ways. Susan Cain points out that now our most important institutions – our schools and workplaces – are designed for extraverts. And we’re living with a value system that I call the New Groupthink, where we believe that all creativity and productivity comes from an oddly gregarious place. Picture a typical classroom. When I was a kid, we sat in rows of desks, and we did most of our work autonomously. But nowadays many students sit in “pods” of desks with four or five students facing each other, and they work on countless group projects—even in subjects like math and creative writing. Kids who prefer to work by themselves don’t fit in…
The same thing happens at work. Many of us now work in offices without walls… And introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though the latest research by the management professor Adam Grant at Wharton shows that introverted leaders often deliver better results…
Cain also cites research to show that brainstorming is a vastly overrated exercise. One creative person thinking alone in quietness and solitude almost always develops better ideas that a group of gregarious people sitting around in a circle.
Well, I’ve enjoyed reading this book because I’m an introvert myself. But, again, Psalm 46:10 isn’t talking about whether we’re introverts or extraverts. It is saying that whatever our temperament or personality, we need to build stillness and quiet into our lives.
Jesus often withdrew from the crowds and even from His family and friends to be alone.
Find a way to have a quiet period in your life every day, a time for thinking and pondering and praying. When we do this in the mornings or evenings with an open Bible and our prayer list, we actually call it our “Quiet” time. This is why some people enjoy fishing or camping or golfing, because it gets them away from the rat race with all its noise and commotion.
This is why we love our back yards and patios and porches. We can’t turn back the clocks, but we can learn to be still… and to take time in the stillness to know that He is God.