Personalities: WHY are individuals so different? I have absolutely no idea, but I can give you an idea of HOW they differ and put that into a pattern that can be understood and acted upon.
Since Plato and Aristotle, various philosophers and psychologists have tried to put some order in the "humors and temperaments" (personalities) that they saw all around them. Many of their theories correlated with one another sort of, but none really stuck until a layperson, Isabel Myers, built on psychiatrist Carl Jung's rather obscure thinking and created what is now known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that is used world-wide to give potential employers and others some idea of a person's particular strengths and potential weaknesses.
Here is how it works:
A test is given to determine whether a person falls in the categories of 1) an Extrovert or an Introvert, 2) an Intuitive or a Sensing, 3) a Thinking or a Feeling, or 4) a Perceiving or a Judging. The description of these categories are important, but even more important is how they work with one another. Let's start with the basics.
From where do we get our energy?
An Extrovert (E) is one who gets energy from being with people. He is talkative because he expresses his thoughts aloud, and can go from one party or event to another without tiring. His opposite is the Introvert (I) who gets energy from inside himself, from being alone. He may be quiet and shy, but not necessarily so, because school, work, and family may have caused the Introvert to learn extroverted ways, but he can only sustain this for a period of time, where then he must leave the gathering of people to find an alone place to revive his depleted energy.
In each of these basic descriptions of type, please understand that between the outer extremes described here, there is a whole range of how extroverted or how introverted a person is, and this affects how that person will behave.
How do we take in information?
An Intuitive (N) is one who gathers information and sees the whole picture before picking out the details. This is a person who prefers goals to work toward or a task may not seem worthwhile pursuing. Extreme Intuitives sometimes drive Sensings nuts, because Sensings have trouble following the Intuitive thinking. The Intuitive's opposite is the Sensing (S) personality who takes in information one detail at a time and prefers these details to be in sequence: first, step one, then step two, and so on. Sensings are very good at repetitive tasks because they don't need a goal to work toward; the task is worthwhile for its own sake. Your best musicians, athletes, accountants, detectives, and anyone who can learn through repetition and observation of their immediate surroundings are probably Sensing. Elementary school teachers are more often Sensing, so their little Intuitive pupils may struggle, but their advantage is that they must learn Sensing ways of thinking to please their teachers. When these kids grow up and go to college, they'll find that many of their professors are Intuitives and the struggle-issue is reversed. The more Intuitive students have the advantage as they are more skilled in taking in information from both Sensing and Intuitive professors.
Remember that all of us have both opposites in our personalities; it's just a matter of degrees. Am I an extreme Intuitive with only a small amount of Sensing, or do both of these characteristics fall somewhere toward the middle of the range where I can call on either one depending on the situation? Also, as we journey through our lives, we can learn and hone our opposites so that we can become more effective in our jobs and in our relationships.
How do we decide how to act in any given situation?
Oh, this is a good one! A great example of this occurred at a dining room table where I was a guest. We were eating fried chicken when one of the children began to gag and seemed to be gasping for breath. The Feeling husband grabbed the child, was out the door, and on his way to the emergency room before any of the rest of us could even react. The Thinking wife said she was trying to figure out if she should help the child by giving her some bread to help the bone go down or try something else. By the time the husband and his daughter reached the hospital, the child had recovered, but the doctors examined her anyway, and no chicken bone was found. Who acted correctly? Both. If it had been a bone gone wrong, the husband's actions would have resulted in a better outcome. If it hadn't been a stray bone caught in the throat, the wife might have tried different solutions to help the child recover and saved the family the emergency room and examination bills.
The Thinking (T) personality is more likely to stand outside a situation and intellectually analyze it before taking any steps toward a solution. The Feeling (F) personality is more likely to act based on their own value judgments of right or wrong and dive right in to rectify the situation.
It's a lot more complicated than this simplified explanation, but hopefully you get the idea.
Do we like fixed solutions or flexible solutions?
The terms Judging (J) and Perceiving (P) are misnomers that need further explanation; they don't really mean what one might think they mean at first glance. Some have tried assigning other terms to these two functions, but Isabel Myers's terms are still used widely, and I will use them here. The Judging personality prefers a firm decision that he can use as a base point. He may feel an urgency to come to closure when a deadline looms. He is a person who makes schedules and lists of tasks needing done. He likes to recognize beginnings, middles, and ends. The Perceiving personality, on the other hand, likes options and may flit from one to another before making a decision that under no circumstances should be considered firm, as the Perceiver will continue to probe for additional contributing options. Extreme Judgers and Perceivers generally drive each other crazy in the workplace until they begin to understand that neither of these personality preferences are wrong, but are simply different ways of functioning.
Extrovert or Introvert
Intuitive or Sensing
Thinking or Feeling
Perceiving or Judging
These are the building blocks that make the four pairs that we will talk about in the next article. Later, we'll look at the sixteen personality types of which I am one, and of which you the reader are one. In the meantime, if you wish, go to http://www.humanmetrics.com/#Jung to take the Jung Typology Test and have it scored for free. Please keep in mind that the questions on the test may seem a bit simplistic and you'll think that you can't answer it. Choose an answer anyway, the one that most closely fits what your preference would be. The Typology Test is about preferences of the various personalities and does not address many other aspects of your life, so don't over-think the questions. Have fun, and I'll be back soon.