Just Like You, Nothing Like You – Day Twenty-Nine

like no one else

One of the first personality inventories I took sorts people into groups represented by one of four animals (lion, beaver, golden retriever, otter) developed by Smalley and Trent in the 1980s. I never liked taking these inventories mostly because the questions could be answered differently depending on the day, or two answers were equally true. The animal incarnation proved this when my responses graphed a line nearly straight across. Also, I resist being placed in a box.My dyslexic-processing brain confronts categories of any kind, and to place billions of beautifully unique persons in 1 of 4 categories is anathema to me.

Still, our culture insists. There’s the assessment based on the Greek humors – Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy, Phlegmatic – developed by Graeco-Arabic medicine, c. 400BCE. And the most widely used by businesses and university-entrance constabularies, Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory first published in 1944, based on Jungian categories of personality traits. And the MMPI, the TIPI, the Keirsey, and the DISC. The one that holds some promise for meaningful insight in my professional opinion, though, is the Enneagram. Its origins are in dispute, but likely set with Oscar Ichazo in the 1950s. It is the most nuanced test, inviting the numinous that plays a very real role in how we express who we are.

By far the most enjoyable types of personality sorters are funneled through Buzzfeed and other social media channels. My daughters will often send me one along with their results, at once laughing at the absurdity of its validity and giving a nod to a modicum of the same. Apparently, I’m Hermione Granger, my Disney princess alter ego is Rapunzel?, and my Norse god counterpart is Odin. I took that last one three times, adjusting my fence-top answers, and it always returned Odin. Grr. I’m Thor! I. am. Thor. Ok, I suppose “wise” and “leader” are characteristics I hope describe me. And I do have a little issue with being in control. But that hammer.

The real concern I have with personality sorters is two-fold. One, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy or cop-out default (well, I am choleric, after all, I’m just stating the truth), and two, human beings are organic, living, changeable creatures impacted by one another, circumstances, brain chemistry, the weather . . . . Sure, I have some overarching tendencies that are characteristic of my behavior. We are habitual beings, too (and there are good, psycho-socio- and neurological reasons for this). Crucially, each carries a specific genetic piece of God’s character, unique. And because we are human and made in the image of this same God, we will recognize God in each other—and, in a similar way, I will recognize myself in you.

The point is, perhaps I have the expertise to see that you process your thoughts out loud and might be categorized as “extroverted.” By understanding this I can then discern that when you are talking about a solution, it is not your final draft. But to call you “a thinker” or “lion” or “phlegmatic” or Loki, well, I will miss all of the other beautiful bits about you that are not in the “S” category, or whatever. I can blow you off because I am not comfortable with introverts, or read your stand up comedy for “socializer” and misunderstand your need for alone time.

Sometimes these inventories are fun for validating the aspects that are true about me, and can help begin to understand someone else a bit better. But there is a gaggle of studies that show how “personality” traits change over time. Indeed, brain chemistry and hormone distribution changes at many stages of development. Mindfulness practice is shown to augment these changes in productive ways, as well. The most salient of these is that it helps me see you for who you are without my junk getting in the way. When I am present with you, mindful of your being, your personhood, I can see you more—and love you better—because to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known! And my prayer is that at (nearly) 50 I might have such a disposition of presence as this. So, my goal today (or tomorrow—it’s a bit late now): be with someone and notice 5 distinct things about her that I love, traits that he does that I would like to develop. Will you join me? Because, I am just like you. And, I am unique.


Simultaneous Age and Beauty – Day Eleven

judged cannot be known

I just spent time at the home of a dear friend. She hosted a tea in honor of another of our friends who recently moved and will not be around as often. Something like 30 or 40 beautiful souls were gathered, most of who played a vital role in my life during one of our pastoral stints. They range in age from 60s to 90-something, cross an array of theological perspectives, and represent the whole gamut of personalities. They certainly disagree, and often, but they always choose to be together. Never have I known a group of people who also always accept me, never judging, ceaselessly encouraging – no matter what.

I needed that today. Don’t we always need that in our lives? It is self-evident we need people near who will encourage us. Still more important are the ones who have gone before me and can laugh at my discomfort with turning 50. Those who know that while it seems my professional life has ended, it is in fact, truly beginning – and means something. Those who can see from an already-lived space and see into me – as. I. am. – and, with a faith they allowed me to lead them in (what humility, what grace), speak back into me the truth that God is working, God is not done, God is faithful.

These women are individuals and a community that praise. They praise God always and they praise each other with equal fervor—is not that just praising God all over again? And with Adam Phillips, “ . . . imagine a world in which . . . we praise whatever we can.” Because, without praise there is only judgment. Judgment is shallow, it discourages, it injures, it cannot see possibility. “The judged self can only be judged but not known.” And that goes for the judgment of others, as well as self-judgment.

Judgment is an interpretation, and it is only one interpretation. Interpretation sets limits. And credence to a single interpretation leaves the object of interpretation perverted and monochromatic, and in the very least, grossly misunderstood. Phillips observes this even in our heroes, “Tragic heroes always underinterpret, are always emperors of one idea.” We are complex people, we image a God vaster than can be conceived—of course it would follow that each person has more facets to be discovered, known. And we change, and are formed by others we encounter and places we go, give form to people who change and reform . . . .

Eleanor Roosevelt said it beautifully: “when you adopt the standards and the values of someone else . . . you surrender your own integrity [and] become, to the extent of your own surrender, less of a human being.” When I accept the judgment, the interpretation that someone ascribes to be, I surrender to a lesser self, not the fullness of who I am.

Suddenly turning 50 doesn’t seem quite so bad. My time with these amazing people today reminds me what I have been missing. Namely, I need a community that comprises those older than me, those committed to me and to each other. I also need people who are younger on whom I may bestow the same graces and acceptance. Surely this is the Body of Christ. Truly this is the Kingdom of Heaven on earth!