Character vs. Personality

The longer you’re alive, the better you know yourself.  Deep, I know.  But every once in a great while, you stumble across an idea or philosophy that helped shape who you are.

I created Being June because I’m fascinated by times long past.  No, it’s more than that.  I identify with the zeitgeist of the American 40s to the early 60s, and it’s my hope that there are others out there like me, or at least others who’ll get a kick out of my ramblings.

But it never occurred to me that there could be a reason for my quirks.  Enter Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  This book, by Susan Cain and published this year, champions the introvert, making a compelling case for how and why we as a society began to perceive introverts as invisible, and how we got it utterly wrong.

I’ve only read a fourth of the book, but the first chapter resonated with me.  In it, Ms. Cain grounds her case in what she calls “a cultural evolution that reached a tipping point around the turn of the twentieth century, changing forever who we are and whom we admire, how we act at job interviews…how we court our mates and raise our children.”  She shows us that cultural historian Warren Susman described this evolution as a transition from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality.  Cain gives us an idea of their differences:  


Ms. Cain argues that, as a society, we want to be and know people who embody the traits of the Culture of Personality, which was born around 1920 and, between the industrial revolution and the entertainment industry, it’s been growing like a weed ever since. 

My parents were both born in the Culture of Personality’s infancy (1941), and I didn’t show up until 1974.  Here’s my aforementioned A-ha moment.  I was one of the only kids I knew who had parents from the Silent Generation, and the majority of my peers were born to Baby Boomers.  I was raised “Character” while most of my same-age peers were raised “Personality.”  I identify with values of an earlier time because in a sense I was raised with them.  And here I thought I was just quirky.

But I also wonder about the larger effects of the Culture of Personality.  It spells trouble for introverts, as Ms. Cain asserts, but what else?  It seems to me that Culture of Character traits are today viewed largely as quaint, old-fashioned and second-fiddle to the traits of the Culture of Personality.    

Do you agree?  If so, do you think our great Cultural Pendulum needs to swing back the other way?  How much?  Or is the Culture of Character antiquated, and good riddance?     

Pandora’s box.  I know.

By the way, Susan Cain also gave a Ted Talk about her book.  If you’re interested in the topic of introversion, it’s definitely worth a watch. 


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