Sunday, 26 July 2015

Thoughts on Quiet

I've read some glowing reviews about Susan Cain's Quiet - it seems to be a book that many American introverts find liberating or empowering. Along the lines of "I didn't know it was OK to be the way I am but then I read this book."

For me, a Finnish introvert, this book is not so much an insight into my own personality but an eye-opener into American culture. As I was reading the book, I marvelled at the differences between my home country and the American culture. I have not had to 'fake' extroversion to the extent described by Cain, even if I have sometimes felt a pressure to be less shy (but shyness is not the same as introversion).

In Finland, introvert personality traits are seen as normal. Cain even mentions Finland as a "famously introverted nation." Perhaps the extroverts have felt more out of place here, and their behaviour has been viewed as more problematic at school and at some workplaces. (Actually, in a recent article in Helsingin Sanomat (link in Finnish only), the Finnish extroverts interviewed talk of those kinds of experiences.)

Cain contrasts the American extrovert culture to Asian cultures, represented by her Asian-American interviewees. She connects their respect for quietness and introversion to the high value they place on being a member of a community and maintaining harmony within the community. Conversely, the Extrovert Ideal seems to go hand in hand with Western individualism: "Westerners value boldness and verbal skill, traits that promote individuality."

But in Finland, this equation does not hold. We can be both fiercely independent and individualistic as well as introvert. Stereotypical Finns are loners who prefer to set up their homes in the wilderness, miles away from the next neighbour. We tend to love uncrowded places. Of course a lot of us have become city dwellers - and we can live in a community and value it and behave politely with one another - but wherever you live, it's normal to want solitude in order to recharge.

The traditional image of a powerful Finnish businessman is a quiet man who only speaks when he has something important to say. (As a side note: The Finnish Silent Strength has been traditionally more associated with men.) Slick talkers have been viewed with skepticism and suspicion. Of course, the gift of the gab is alright for people who want to entertain others, for example comedians or salespeople at their market stalls who are trying to attract more customers... But if you want to be taken seriously, speak less and be matter-of-fact: let your facts speak for themselves.

But along the traditional Silent Strength, the Culture of Personality and the Extrovert Ideal have slowly entered Finland, too. Partly through the American-made entertainment we have so eagerly consumed, partly through the globalization of business? More and more Finns find themselves trying to sell their products, ideas and services to American businesspeople, and then they realize that facts do not, after all, always speak for themselves. Something else is needed to succeed outside Finland.

Reading Cain's book made me wonder what will happen to the Finnish Silent Strength. From her description, it seemed to me that the Finnish traditional culture is/was not very different from what the American was before the Culture of Personality took over. And now, even here, the Culture of Personality is a growing trend. People are posting their vlogs on YouTube, participating in reality TV shows, hoping to become famous.

I can't imagine us changing as a nation so completely that we'd adopt the Extrovert Ideal to the extent that Cain depicts. Would it be possible for Finland to find some kind of golden mean? To be a culture where both introverts and extroverts can thrive, find themselves accepted and appreciated?

I hope so.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Summer reading (July QuickLit)

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy's QuickLit to share short reviews of what we've been reading lately. 

Summer has been unusually cold and rainy around here. We've been alternating between work and holidays, home and travelling, and I've finally had time to read many of the books I have bought months ago and saved for later.

Most of the books I've read are non-fiction, but these stories are more compelling, exciting and engrossing than many novels I can think of. Seriously, it's hard to find novels that I'd enjoy as much as these... 

Ken Tada, Joni Eareckson Tada & Larry Libby: Joni & Ken. An Untold Love Story.

Most (at least Western?) Christians know who Joni Eareckson Tada is. Fewer, perhaps, know her husband. As Joni comments in the acknowledgements section of the book, most of the "untold" part of this love story is Ken's part - he has stayed in the background, while Joni has been a public figure, telling her story in books, talks, broadcasts, etc.

Joni's breast cancer story is a big part of the book. That overwhelming health challenge - on top of quadriplegia and chronic pains - actually brought Joni and Ken closer together, as Ken became more involved in Joni's health care than before. Strangely, the cancer 'gave' them more time together, better communication, more intimacy, and even stronger mutual trust and respect than earlier.

One of the book's messages is that a 'fairly good' marriage can become better - lots better. And that good relationships don't just happen - that it takes conscious effort from both to be open and to extend grace to one another.

As for the rest - read it for yourself, it's worth it :) A hopeful story.

Derek and Lydia Prince: Appointment in Jerusalem

Old "Christian classic" memoir that a friend recommended to me. 
Lydia Christensen, a well-to-do schoolteacher in Denmark, sought for life's meaning, encountered God in a dynamic way - and felt led to go to Jerusalem. There, she became a foster mother to a baby girl who was nearly dying, and she experienced a lot of challenges as well as miraculous answers to prayer. (The events in the book took place in the 1920's and 30's.)
A riveting story.

Eric Metaxas: Amazing Grace. William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

William Wilberforce was a truly fascinating person. And Metaxas is a skillful writer: he tells Wilberforce's story in an entertaining way, with many enlivening details and witty commentary. He also gives enough background of the time period to help me understand how and why Wilberforce was significant and extraordinary (and in which things he was a more typical representative of his time).
An interesting story.

Kara Tippetts: The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard

Kara's life story, focused on Jesus: how Kara found and met God's grace in many hardships. The most touching parts, for me, were her thoughts on how her cancer was impacting her children and how to talk with the kids about it. 

Honest and beautiful book.

I did read a bit of fiction, too:
Katherine Reay: Dear Mr Knightley
A modern retelling of Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs. If you're familiar with that story (as I was), you'll probably enjoy noticing the parallels and picking up clues along the way. 
The character of the heroine, Sam, and certain plot twists required a bit of willing suspension of disbelief from me, and I didn't mind that. The novel was entertaining and engaging enough to keep me reading way past my normal bedtime.
(And of course I appreciated the literary quotations and allusions, especially the Austen ones...)