Tag Archives: MBTI

The Sacred Mystery of Each

“Every person is a sacred mystery.”  A few years back, Ron Austin caught my attention with this little statement in a brief talk at Act One: Screenwriting for Hollywood.   He was reminding us that each person has an essential beauty and mystery, and that to see each person we meet as sacrament is to heighten the possibility of true understanding, compassion, and love.

I’m reading about consciousness, identity, personality, and behavior modification, along with the daily dose of Bible, and it makes me sit up and wonder over this whole notion of who we think we are.   I saw a play at Taproot Theatre last night (Brownie Points, well worth your time and money) trying to help us push beyond racial stereotypes, raising our level of consciousness about what’s often at play under the surface of our interactions.  With racial themes, it makes perfect sense to us to try and unpack the various forces at work at any given moment; our own personal biases, family history, current social cueing, geography, economic class, and whatever unconscious factors might be at work.

But what about other, perhaps less obvious areas of concern?  In the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, what conscious and unconscious elements are actually at work?  Are these stories accurate?  Timothy D. Wilson, in Strangers To Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, cites the example of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, who seems completely unaware that he is the bossy, cantankerous, misogynist that he is.   And we all know people who think of themselves as kind and loving who are actually something other than that.  And frankly, I’ll admit with appropriate embarrassment, I’m pretty sure that some of the stories I tell myself about myself are not quite the truth, though without the help of dear friends willing to suggest some alternative narratives, I’m may well be quite clueless about what the alternatives might be.

The kicker is, I could probably say the same about you.

No disrespect here, we’re all in the self-narrative business, and we’re in it together.  And that’s important.

I’m not finished with Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves yet, but one thing he’s very clear about–there is no way to observe the unconscious mind directly.  (And I should say very clearly that he is describing something other than Freud’s “sexual repression” version of the unconscious.  He uses the phrase “adaptive unconscious” to describe the working of those areas of mind that are dealing with both internal and external influences far beyond the reach of our awareness, of which there are many.)  And given that there’s no way to observe it directly, and given that you agree (you may not) that this adaptive unconscious is working on you and helping you choose (or choosing itself) to behave in ways that may not be helpful, the question arises:  is there any way to discover how I’m being impacted by these unconscious factors?

His suggestion: infer its influence by observing behavior.

Seems simple enough, but now we’re back to story-telling.   Fact:  I yelled at person A.   My version of story:  They deserved it for the following, very rational reasons.   Other, truer version of story, told by a third party watching me yell at person A: Jeff doesn’t deal well with rational conflict, and if pushed, will yell ridiculous things at people.   Add the fact that he was in a room full of people yelling at each other, and that he walks in a culture filled with yellers, and that he’s just been bored lately and didn’t know it, and that there’s a particular tone of voice person A used that hits him like the bell ringing for Pavlov’s dogs, and so on and so forth, and there were lots of reasons I yelled at person A, none of them rational.  The one certain thing? Person A didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.

I look at a lot of flowers this time of year, and I’m always amazed that just looking at a bud, you’d never know what was coming.  And I can still get surprised and excited by what blooms.  Maybe if I was a horticulturist, I’d get to the place where I’d think I’d know what I was dealing with, but hopefully, nature would step up every once in a while and smack me with something I’d never seen before.

So we have to deal with each other in shorthand sometimes.  Life is fast, and we size up and judge and label and stereotype, so that we can get on with things.  And sometimes we gulp down the wine and bread,  rush our way in and out of the baptistry, mutter our help-us-and-heal-us prayers on automatic, throw away our friends and marriages.

Life is a sacrament, a place where the holy emerges in mystery and rarity.   And each of us are particular, peculiar, and amazingly designed vessels to both hold and pour forth that mystery in stories.  God help us get those stories somewhere close to true.

Holy ground is not only where you walk.

It’s who you are…

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Differences, INFPs, and Making Room

One of the strange things about the constant swirl of advice our consumer culture (and I include preaching as part of that because “consumer culture” refers to the mindset of the audience) is that it almost always sounds as if it’s meant for everyone. And from inside our own heads, that seems sort of right, because “if I feel this way (whatever it is), don’t you feel that way, too?”  Many disagreements turn on the way you should think and feel about a thing, because the way I think and feel about it is closer to truth, reality, or both.

Unless, of course, you are thoroughly postmodern, believing in neither.

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day reminding myself how different we all are.  The construction of characters in a story is a wake-up call, challenging the story-teller to consider again just how far removed we can be from each other.  The Myers-Briggs folks, the Taylor-Johnson folks, the MRA folks, and lots of other researchers like them, have studied and plotted and tracked and categorized various personality traits and types, all in hopes of helping us deal with each other more effectively.   The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was my major focus yesterday, in hopes of gathering a bit more insight into the various characters of “Lost Cause”, my current writing project exploring the life and mind of an ambitious Southern Civil War Reenactor.   And while I have no intention of writing these characters according to exact MBTI types, it reminded me in a big way that the lives inside most people’s minds are really not like mine at all.


The question really is: is that okay?

I’m treading into banality now, but still.  If it is okay that we’re so different, then why do we spend so much time trying to get other folks to think like we do?  (My INFP world is pretty idealistic–why isn’t yours?  And if you automatically roll your eyes, maybe it’s not as okay to think differently as you thought.)  Why do we not spend far more time listening and probing in order to understand those around us? It has always seemed to me (here I go selling you on my way of seeing things) that part of the Christian call of hospitality has been to create room–physically, conversationally, spiritually, emotionally–for people to trot out their way of being.

How does that work, you ask?   Well, I guess that would depend on how you go about your life.   In other words, maybe I can speak pretty clearly to the INFP’s of the world (that’s Myers-Briggs-speak for those of us who “prefer” introverted feeling and extroverted intution as primary and secondary ways of dealing with the world—aren’t you glad you asked?), but what about you ENFJ’s?  An ENFJ way of extending hospitality might look pretty different than it would coming from an INFP.   But then, when Christ says to give up your life, I assume he’s talking to ISTJs and ENFPs alike.

But so many of our questions revolve around “how.”  How do we actually follow the command to love?  To give?  To die to self?  What does the map to Christ-likeness look like?  Here’s where it’s gets interesting.  It’s that whole “gifts differing” thing that Paul went after talking to the Corinthians.    But it’s not only in the gifts that are manifested in our exterior worlds, in our “incarnating.”  It’s really about the life of the mind and the heart.   We see and process and think and filter differently.

And yet, action follows.  A caress lands on skin, and a blow lands on bone.  Words enter spirits via the hearing apparatus of the ear and the seeing apparatus of the eye.   However life is going on inside our heads, it will out.   In the interaction of body to body, word to word, and touch to touch, our varying ways of seeing the world and acting therein will meet.  And in those meetings, there will be creation and destruction, love and hate, encouragement and curt criticism.   We’ll dance and we’ll fight, adding life and taking life to and from each other.

Whatever you prefer along the lines of sensing or intuition, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving, the dance and the fight and creating and destroying are going to be the result of your life (interior and exterior) moving into the real-scape of humanity.   And it seems to me (selling you again), to recognize and celebrate the fact that creation and humanity is built this way by design is to pave the way for more understanding than we lived in yesterday.

I’ll stop there.   Yes, I know…there are issues in the discussion of brilliantly designed differences and the differences of action that get identified as sin, and those are beyond what I’m willing to tackle this morning.   But historically, I’ve always leaned toward a Greek way of thinking, that we’re far more alike than we’re different.  I still hold to that, mostly because the great stories speak so deeply to so many.

The great mystery is the unity within the diversity, holding them together in the tension.

And now, of course, we’re back to talking about making art…

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