Susan Cain is the author of Quiet—The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which was on the New York Times bestselling list. Her TED talk was viewed by over 5 million people.

Susan describes her scholarly, gentle grandfather who was a rabbi as her role model. She loved to visit his home in Brooklyn, where the walls were lined with books, and every available table and chair served as a surface for them. Reading was her family’s favorite group activity.

Cain claims that our society has evolved largely from a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality.” Instead of integrity, we now value charisma. We’ve gone from respecting men and women of contemplation to admiring men and women of action, and are more impressed with marketability and promotion than with inner growth.

Though our world prizes extroverts, Susan asks us to begin appreciating the qualities of introversion and the power of quiet contemplation. “We need to unplug and get inside our heads more often,” she says. The more freedom that we give people to be themselves, the more creative they will become, and can then share their important ideas with the world.

The qualities that Susan advocates for have always been at the forefront of Judaism.

The Jewish people are described as bayshanim, bashful. Tikkun ha-middot, the quiet, inner-directed work of improving character traits, is a prime focus of Jewish teachings, along with the belief that if we change ourselves we can have a disproportionate effect on transforming the entire world.

Tefillah, prayer, the most introspective act of meditation, begins the Jewish day.

©Miriam Karp
©Miriam Karp

Humility is the hallmark of a Jewish leader. Moses, most famously, begged G‑d to choose someone else to become the leader of his people. Saul is described as nechba el ha-keilim, “hidden behind the vessels,” so adamant was he to hide from the limelight.

And, if you think about it, that is really the power of the introvert—that it is not about him but rather his belief in the message.

At first when I started speaking publicly, I thought it was so incongruent with what I was, a very private person. In a group setting, I was the last one who would raise my hand to share my thoughts. It took me years to appreciate that it is precisely because I’m not the one to push my agenda that when I finally do open my mouth to share, others are eager to hear.

This is the power of introversion.

In Kabbalistic thought, the six days of the week embody the mode of reaching out to the six directions of our world: north and south, east and west, up and down. These days are considered masculine. The Shabbat, on the other hand, is considered feminine, and is the center that draws all the points together. There can’t be six directions (or any direction) if there isn’t a center as the foundation.

All week long we operate as men of action, doing. On the Shabbat, we must stop acting and focus instead on internalizing. For this reason, the Shabbat is considered to be the source of blessing for the entire week.

Because, just as Cain advocates, in order to go out and do, you need to first know how to be.

The messianic era, too, is considered a feminine time, when we will finally rest from our outward acts of doing, and begin absorbing and internalizing the blessings.

And I guess that is why it doesn’t surprise me that as we approach this era, right at the forefront of this “quiet revolution” is a very powerful and introverted Jewish woman.