Meeting our personality is an eye opening experience. The bible points out that it is not only important to open our eyes to behold ourselves, but to use that information to improve:
“For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was.” –James 1:23,24 NET Bible
Our motivation for self awareness is part of a deeper longing in the human psyche to know what life (and death) is all about. This painting by the renowned French impressionist, Paul Gauguin, expresses in artistic form the fundamental questions that trouble us all. The inscription at the upper left, translated from the French, reads “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?”
This montage was meant to be viewed from right to left. At the right, a young couple dotes over a baby, symbolic of the beginning of the cycle of life. Near the center a mature man reaches upward, like any one of us, seeking answers to the meaning of life. A little further to the left is a statue of a deity, an institutionalized attempt to provide those answers. Then at the left, completing the cycle of life, is an old woman, resigned to her mortality. The dog looking on at the extreme right reminds us that our species is not alone.
In the scheme of things, awareness of our ego identity usually precedes awareness of a higher power above and a deeper identity within us. In this connection, we recently have been exploring on this website the fundamental question of who God is. We discovered that our sacred literature, when interpreted as literal, left us with a perplexing system of beliefs and expectations. It answered some questions about the meaning of life, but raised even more questions because it led to inconsistencies and turned some people into religious zombies. When we began to interpret scripture as allegorical, doors opened, perplexity flew out, and fascination and harmony took its place. Having the right model of interpretation is the key that unlocks doors. Often, we come to appreciate the right model only after we have labored in futility with the wrong one, sort of like Jacob wrestling with the angel. Sometimes like Sampson, we have to tear down the model. Today I am going to describe what I consider a flawed model for understanding personality, so readers can better appreciate a better one to be described in a future post.
Many posts on this website have led us to the conclusion that we must look within ourselves to discover wisdom. We must also understand that we are all different, even if we believe that we are all manifestations of the same divine source. Jacob had 12 sons. You can be sure that in order to get along in that family, it was important to respect and understand each other’s differences. If the brothers had been more developed in their understanding, perhaps they would not have thrown little Joseph under the bus. It is a cautionary tale, even though that particular playbook had a silver lining.
Modern popularity of self awareness is a consequence of recent historical development. During World War II, men left their jobs and marched off to battle, leaving inexperienced women scrambling to fill the void in the work force. Even though the factory doors were open wide, most women did not have a clue what they could do. Some of the scrambling was made easier by having women take a personality test to help them determine where they would best fit in. This self-administered test called the Myers Brigs Type Indicator (MBTI) was a long, multiple-choice questionnaire that determined personality based on four human traits, called “continuums”.
To provide you with an introduction to personality profiling. I have excerpted summaries of these traits below from Wikipedia, Although the concepts are framed in the secular terminology of Western psychology, in the long run, it is an attempt by psychologists to answer the fundamental spiritual questions, because ultimately:
We cannot know God unless we know ourselves.
The Four Myers Briggs Contiuums
The first continuum reflects what generically energizes a person. Extraverted types learn best by talking and interacting with others. By interacting with the physical world, extraverts can process and make sense of new information. Introverted types prefer quiet reflection and privacy. Information processing occurs for introverts as they explore ideas and concepts internally.
The second continuum reflects what a person focuses their attentions on. Sensing types enjoy a learning environment in which the material is presented in a detailed and sequential manner. Sensing types often attend to what is occurring in the present, and can move to the abstract after they have established a concrete experience. Intuitive types prefer a learning atmosphere in which an emphasis is placed on meaning and associations. Insight is valued higher than careful observation, and pattern recognition occurs naturally for Intuitive types.
The third continuum reflects the person’s decision preferences. Thinking types desire objective truth and logical principles and are natural at deductive reasoning. Feeling types place an emphasis on issues and causes that can be personalized while they consider other people’s motives.
The fourth continuum reflects how the person regards complexity. Judging types will thrive when information is organized and structured, and they will be motivated to complete assignments to gain closure. Perceiving types will flourish in a flexible learning environment in which they are stimulated by new and exciting ideas.
The premise of Myers Briggs is that each person’s overall personality is the combination of the dominant type in each continuum. You are either an E or an I, an S or an N, etc. When you list your dominant type in all four continuums in order, you obtain your overall personality type; for instance, one person can be an ENFP, another an ISTJ.
When you count all the possible combinations, there are 16 overall personality types. The personality types are based on a modification of Carl Jung’s “Psychological Types”. The Myers Briggs test correlates your answers to those expected by one of the 16 types. The entire testing process is validated by a statistical method called psychometrics.
Your basic Myers Briggs personality is supposed to be a done deal. You do not change with age or circumstances. I do not know about you, but I have never appreciated being “locked in”.
After attending undergraduate school as a chemistry major in Buffalo, NY, I tested as an ISTJ. ISTJs make good theoretical scientists, like Albert Einstein. I wish I had half his brains. Maybe I do, but I got the half that likes to dress sloppy with wild hair. Then years later I did something impossible according to Myers Briggs. I shifted. Suddenly I had the same personality type as political revolutionary Fidel Castro. This new classification encouraged me to grow a bushy beard and change political parties to benefit the common man. But I was still me and unlike my Cuban friend, I could not handle cigars.
I decided I liked fresh air and migrated south to join an intentional community in rural Virginia where we grew corn and weaved hammocks. I left after a year and shifted again. This time I became a fundamentalist Christian for 30 years until something new happened and… I shifted again… to my present esoteric state. Now, whenever I want to, I take a few deep breaths and shift from an S to an N, because Ns comprehend the hidden mysteries of the universe, something even Einstein may have missed. Then, when I need to drive through traffic, I click my heels and turn back into an S. I love living life off the Briggs Meyer charts.
Then there is my brother. He was advised based on psychometric tests to become a CPA. After an exploratory period as a Marxist philosopher in Greenwich Village, he became a successful graphic artist and jazz musician. So much for psychometric testing.
Although the Myers-Briggs personality profiling is still revered in big business, it has been proven to be unreliable and misleading by its critics (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator, section on Criticism). Only the extrovert/introvert distinction originally formulated by Carl Jung, has endured the test of time.
So my advice to you is, “Thou shallt not goest down this road.” That being said, if you do not know your Myers Briggs profile, and because thou cannot resisteth the temptation, you can take the MBTI free online and Google all about it. But just remember, even if your Myers Briggs personality profile seems accurate to you:
You (the real you) are not your personality.
Instead, you can manage your personality. You are capable of flexibility and always able to learn new approaches. And if you end up as an introvert giving a party, remember the universe has a purpose for all this.
The website, http://www.personalitypathways.com/type_inventory.html. is one of manythat describe Myers Briggs. There you will find a free, informal and short self- assessment. If you want a detailed self- assessment that is more like the real test, you can find a free one at http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp, or an even better one for $50 at https://www.mbticomplete.com/contents/learnmore.aspx.
The real test administered for a substantial cost in big business is somewhat long and supervised by a trained professional who also spends some one-on-one time with each subject. However, I have not found these very useful. Some people swear by it; these are usually the people who come out with profiles recommended for upper management. However, there is no correlation between the Myers Briggs profile and success in the work place. (Psst! Do not try to tell that to a CEO who has just paid a bundle to have everyone tested.)
Why have I gone to such great lengths to describe a personality profiling model with so many drawbacks? It is because the shortcomings will help us appreciate a better model. The Yin supports the Yang.
As for the shortcomings, my major problem with the Myers Briggs is not even that it is less reliable than it is purported to be. It is simply this: it does not provide much room for growth. This does not fulfill the scriptural exhortation given at the beginning of this post to act upon self awareness. Awareness without growth is futile, for:
Growth is what higher consciousness is all about – the development, and later, transcendence of the ego.
A more ancient form of personality profiling does a wonderful job at incorporating spiritual growth – the Enneagram. In a future post we will explore the Enneagram model compared to other spiritually based systems of personality, and why the Enneagram is superior.
Until then, remember, the real you is not your personality.