Studies of human personality types intrigue and amuse us as we search for who we are. But then we go too far and adopt a personality type to describe ourselves for life. That type becomes the shape of our ego.
We love to limit our potential by putting ourselves in a box. We feel safe in the box.
Myers-Briggs: Is there anyone left in the Western world whose perceptional and decision making preferences haven’t been outlined by Myers-Briggs?
The Myers-Briggs system of personality assessment is now ubiquitous in the workplace as a training and team building strategy. Employers want their employees to understand that their co-workers are not all like them and want them to learn how to stop being driven mad by different personalities on the job.
Tens of millions can now tell you their four-initial profile, beginning with I for introvert or E for extravert.
Members of my wife’s woman’s group all know each others’ types. When they go on their annual three-day retreat, each of the three introverts has to have a private room, but the three extraverts all happily bunk in one room.
Why would anyone want to glom on to any of these specific characteristics for life? Does anybody really want to be an introvert for life? Does anyone want to be that predictable?
Human Dynamics: I love the Human Dynamics system developed by Sandra Seagal and David Horne (Human Dynamics: A New Framework for Understanding People and Realizing the Potential in Our Organizations, Pegasus Communications, 1997).
In this huge global study of the human race, Human Dynamics claims not to put individuals into a small box that says “this is how you are,” but instead describes each of us as one of five distinct personality dynamics that get to our hard wiring.
Their 30 page description of my personality dynamic—The Emotional Objective– was so spot on that my usual skepticism about categories of personalities had to give way. They have my “capacities” nailed, for instance. My dynamic has the capacity:
v To move events forward
v To sense the emergent directions and new possibilities in events, individuals, and groups
v To challenge inertia by breaking through old forms
v To participate in helping new forms with others
v To deeply understand that nothing of real value can be created and sustained without collaborative effort
The authors describe me more accurately than my wife could.
Scary. Fascinating and valuable. More than anything, I felt affirmed after reading about my personality dynamic. Challenges for this type are briefly identified, but no major weaknesses.
Still, as with all personality assessments, the temptation is to align with one of the personality dynamics as a set of ego claims.
None of these insightful personality dynamics can describe an individual’s consciousness.
Hitler may have been an Emotional Objective, for all I know.
A Warrior Typology: My favorite personality typology is funny as it blasts a blowtorch at our egos. This set of observations of people by the warriors of ancient Mexico comes from Carlos Castaneda’s book, The Power of Silence: Further Lessons of don Juan.
The warriors believed that we are not as complex as we think we are. Over the centuries, their hard-eyed scrutiny of how people operate identifies three personality categories:
- Nice people: Nice people are the ideal servers, secretaries, and assistants. They have very pleasant, fluid personalities, although they are not very nourishing. They are usually resourceful, humorous, sweet, and well mannered. In short, they are the nicest of people you will ever meet.
The fatal flaw of nice types: they cannot operate without leadership. With direction, they can be stupendous even in the face of great difficulty, according to warrior observers, but alone, however, they perish.
- Not nice people: This type (my type) really does not have any socially redeeming qualities. They can’t stop talking about themselves. “They are petty, vindictive, envious, jealous, self-centered,” Castaneda says. Uncomfortable in every human situation, they nevertheless push themselves to the front. Impossible to please, they become nastier as their insecurity increases.
Their fatal flaw: they will kill to lead.
Warriors have one word for this type: farts.
- Neither nice nor not nice people: This type serves no one, imposes on no one. “Rather, they are indifferent,” according to Castaneda. “They have an exalted idea about themselves derived solely from daydreams and wishful thinking.” They are waiting to be discovered. Their potential is always imminent and they always promise to deliver it soon.
Their fatal flaw: their claimed potential never arrives because it never existed.
The warrior typology is useful
All of us in the leadership team I led for 25 years recognized ourselves easily as farts, and we laughed as we acknowledged our untenable position as the not nice people who led our organization.
We agreed that our colleagues seemed either nice, not nice, or neither nice nor not nice. It was useful to see all of these ego states walking around—usually without much self-awareness.
Useful? Well, our pigeon holing of our colleagues and ourselves was a source of endless self-deprecating humor, but it had its practical value as well—at least for me.
Two ways the warrior types are helpful:
1. They don’t flatter us, but quickly describe our weaknesses. They don’t build our egos, as Myers-Briggs has the potential to do. “Oh, I’m an INFP. I’m secretly (or not so secretly) proud that I’m an INFP. And I’m glad you now know that I’m an INFP. Maybe you’ll be able to understand me now, and quit expecting me to be somebody else.”
The patterns of thinking and behavior that we etch ever more deeply into our personalities by failing to examine them are just what the warrior observers mirror back to us with these personality profiles. The warrior observers, of course, believe that we are all quite mad. That’s a good assumption for anyone interested in real learning. This will not be easy.
2. For those wanting to become more conscious, the work is to scorch the ego until it becomes a husk that will blow away on the next breeze. Once I can see the horrifying patterns of my weaknesses, the hilariously stupid personality that I thrust onto to the world every day, I can get down to some serious transformation.
This doesn’t have to be depressing—if we can keep laughing. What is depressing is to lead the unexamined life.
Once we have stalked the pattern of our ordinary life, we for the first time have an opportunity to discover who we really are.
Failing to stalk our weaknesses, all we have is ego, the false self.
We can lift the imprint of our personality type and shrink our egos
As I’ve said here recently, most people live in a bubble of self-reflection, not seeing the vast world at large, only endless images of themselves everywhere they look. The warrior typology recognizes this sobering but hilarious situation.
Hardly anyone seems able to rise above his or her own deep patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior. Most people cling to their favorite limiting personalities, in spite of the weaknesses that are pretty obvious to anyone who knows them.
Take my type, for instance.
In the past, uncomfortable and insecure, self-centered and wanting to talk endlessly about myself, I have played the not nice idiot often in my life.
Wives, colleagues, and friends have found my weaknesses as a fart unpleasant to be around. My insistence on getting my way has seemed unfair and ungenerous to people who have known me well. My tendency to take up all the energy in the room, holding forth like a prince, has tested everyone’s patience and bored them to exhaustion at times. Shoving to the front, I prevented others less aggressive from establishing and developing their leadership potential.
But I have been able to control my folly by acknowledging that I am a true blue fart and going to war with my weaknesses.
I am able to live most days without expressing any of these weaknesses.
I don’t seem like a fart to most people who know me now, because I suppress my fartdom.
I can shut up and let others talk, even though I like to hold forth as much as I ever did.
I can stand back and encourage others to lead, even though I think I should be in the lead, as usual.
I can be generous and loving. I can serve others tirelessly, as the fart lurks just out of sight.
I can overcome my insecurity and be in the moment, confident and content.
I am never nasty anymore, even though I see what needs improving everywhere I look, just as I always have.
I am genuinely glad for the success of others, even though winning is everything to me, as always. I am not jealous of anyone, even though I notice our relative standing, as always.
Yet I am a fart, for sure. That’s my type, and I’m not all like the other two types.
Can the other two types become self-aware about their built-in ways of perceiving and relating to the world?
Sure, individuals can observe themselves, see the patterns that limit their learning, and lift the imprint of genetics and upbringing.
We can become aware of our patterns and fly free
Most people feel more comfortable living out familiar ego descriptions of themselves than questioning them.
What sign are you? “Oh, I’m an Aries! Aries are independent, generous, and courageous. Of course you have to put up with our moodiness, short temper, and impulsiveness. Ha, ha.”
“Boy, we may have trouble. I’m a Scorpio. We’re loyal, dynamic, and passionate, but we’re also suspicious, manipulative and unyielding. Ha, ha.”
“Hey, I’m bigger than some astrological sign. I’m a Buddhist!”
“Well, I’m bigger than a Buddhist!” No laughter here. “I’m an …”
Fill in the blank.
We seem propelled to defend ourselves from life by getting up every morning and putting on the straightjacket of our choice.
But when we finally quiet down, when we can finally sustain our poise, when our ego is finally deconstructed and we don’t identify with any type any more, we have become nobody.
As a poised nobody, we can choose our response to whatever life is presenting in the moment.
As nobody, we can play a tune of infinite variety and originality on all 88 keys.
As warrior nobodies, we cannot be described. No one can head us off at the pass. Nobody can predict how we will be, how we will act, what position we will take, what attitude we will bring, what path we will choose.
Sustaining poise, we have lifted the many ego imprints of our socialization and become our true type: