I just finished a book called The Price of Privilege, by Madeline Levine (here’s an article on that topic), and have moved onto one called Quiet: The Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain.

From the former, I learned that affluent parents — such as the type Ian and I are poised to become, although we’re probably on the lower end — tend to impose excessive expectations on their kids, exert intense pressure to succeed (according to the parents’ definition), and ultimately stifle and steamroll their kids. The kids try their best to please Mom and Dad until, one day, they give up. For girls, that’s reflected in the high rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders; for dudes, it’s often more aggression, acting out, or being extremely rebellious. I had no idea, but apparently upper-middle-class kids are heavy drug users. Alcohol I’d expect, but cocaine? Seems a bit… hard core for young teens. But how do you cope with the expectation you’ll take all AP classes, maintain your 4.0 GPA, and play on Varsity soccer, basketball, and baseball, plus squeeze in some extra-curricular French and violin lessons?

I understand now when they say parents want the best for their kids: Of course I do. But what is “the best”? My take-away from Price of Privilege is that kids don’t need you to be a best friend, they need someone to provide structure and rules. If we want to be good parents, we’re responsible for being attuned to Benji’s needs and responding to them, but not trying to force him into our ideas of what he should be or achieve.

From Quiet, I’ve learned all sorts of interesting facts about introverts, of which I’d consider myself one (despite my tendency to get loud and excited, I’m anxious and exhausted in large groups and prefer my interactions one-on-one). Probably the most interesting was how introversion/extroversion may have played a role in the 2008 Great Recession. Apparently, extroverts’ brains respond strongly to rewards or the potential for a reward, and extroverts are willing to take big risks to get rewards because this stimulates dopamine production in the brain, which makes you feel delightfully buzzed. As a matter of fact, extroverts actually ignore — can’t perceive — risk the same way introverts do. It’s just too compelling to go for the big payoff, so the warning bells are muffled by the roar of excitement at the risky activity. Introverts simply don’t get the same buzz from a reward, and are far less reward-driven.

So in the years leading up to 2008, financial peeps who took big risks — nearly all extroverts — reaped apparently big rewards. These extroverts were promoted because they were “successful,” while the cautious introverts who didn’t invest in high-risk/high-reward funds tended to get shunted to the side. Eventually the big financial institutions came to be run by extroverts who didn’t even see the riskiness in their choices, and there no voices of caution to slow them down. And over we went. And lo and behold, the introverts who were more driven by fear and uncertainty turned out to have been right, but nobody listened to them because they were the quiet losers.

Which makes me wonder… who’s in charge now? Is anybody checking with the cautious introverts before making big financial choices?

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