Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Myers-Briggs Conspiracy

If they had a place to subtitle blogs (or if I was self-confident enough to use a colon in the title of something that isn’t an academic paper), this post would be called The Myers-Briggs Conspiracy: Or Why My Personality Is Culturally Advantaged.

I am an ENFP. Here is a cool graphic representation of what the personality test people think this means.

Seriously, look at the words written on the head. I sound like the most delightful person you would ever want to meet. I practically exude rainbow-colored light all around me and cause flowers to bloom in my path.

You know what it doesn’t say? It doesn’t tell you what I struggle with and what my weaknesses are, even the ones that are directly tied to my ENFP-ness. Expressive? Yes, to the point of being a show-off. Persuasive? Mm hmm, with manipulative tendencies. Value authenticity? Right on, and I might actively avoid you if I think you’re shallow. Sociable? Sure, and also dependent on the approval of others.

(I didn’t put up just this picture because I’m a crazy egotist. I just couldn’t figure out how to download all of them as one picture. Here's the rest of the gallery--find your own type. If you don't know your type, check out a quiz I posted a while back.)

The point here is two things: first, if you only believe the positive things that personality tests say about you (and they’re mostly positive), you’ll miss out on great opportunities to grow. When you read all the nice things about yourself, you should think, “That’s great, but what is the sinister underside or unhealthy extreme to this strength that I have?” Second, I happen to think that sometimes our culture favors, or at least emphasizes, certain traits over others.

For example, if you look through the whole gallery, you’ll notice that most of the “F” types have more positive character-trait-like words such as “caring” or “loyal.” This shows the emphasis we tend to put on emotion and emotional responses being good all the time. Realistically, those nice phrases should be balanced out with ones like “unstable,” “moody,” “impulsive,” “smothering,” or “codependent.” (Not that all “F”s are like this. But the potential is there.)

In fairness to “T” types, whose adjectives tend to have more negative connotations—when has anyone complimented you for being “calculating” or “detached”?—I’d like you to take a second and picture what would happen in a world with just “F”s. (And no fair picturing a Disney movie with animators to make everything end happily ever after.) It’s kind of scary.

When it comes to introversion and extraversion, let’s face it—many of the decision makers and cultural icons in our world, from politicians to pastors to pop stars are extroverts.

I read this article about how, in a world designed for and favoring extroverts, introverts secretly run everything and come up with the most useful ideas and inventions. (The article was by a woman who wrote a book called Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. Which is the best title ever.)

Suddenly curious, I typed in “Defense of Extroverts” on Google and found three relevant articles. Guess what “Defense of Introverts” got me? Five pages of unique results. This tells us either that extroverts are an extremely persecuted minority being censored from the Internet, or that no one needs to defend extroverts because society itself does a pretty good job of pandering to them.

Given that there are armies of extroverts out there whose main personality trait is the inability to be silenced, I doubt it’s the first option.

Both other pairs—“N” (big picture) and “S” (details), and “P” (unstructured) and “J” (structured)—don’t have quite as strong of a cultural bias. What one person calls “free-spirited,” another person might call “lazy.” At the same time, the structured, detailed people are more likely to be the boring, strict, or mean ones in good-cop/bad-cop scenarios, as opposed to the fun one who swoops in with jokes and says things like “oh, we’ll worry about that later.”

Looking at the different adjectives on the graphic, I realized once again how much we are dependent on people who are strong in areas that we are weak. For all the great things about being an ENFP, if everyone was that type, entire career paths would immediately be vacant, the global economy would collapse, and everyone would run around trying to solve all problems by giving people hugs and telling funny stories.

Moral of the story? We need all types.

No comments:

Post a Comment