Sunday, March 23, 2014

Personality, empathy, and relationships

       On a recent application I was filling out, I was asked to describe my personality. I recall testing as an INTJ on a Myers'-Briggs Type Indicator while working as a camp counselor in college, so I googled "INTJ" and came up with the following Wikipedia description:

INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion "Does it work?" to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake ... INTJs are known as the "Systems Builders" of the types, perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait of combining imagination and reliability. Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause to anINFJ; both perfectionism and disregard for authority come into play. Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel ... This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals ... Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense.
—Marina Margaret Heiss[11]
INTJs are analytical. Like INTPs, they are most comfortable working alone and tend to be less sociable than other types. Nevertheless, INTJs are prepared to lead if no one else seems up to the task, or if they see a major weakness in the current leadership. They tend to be pragmaticlogical, and creative. They have a low tolerance for spin or rampant emotionalism. They are not generally susceptible to catchphrases and do not readily accept authority based on tradition, rank, or title.
INTJs are strong individualists who seek new angles or novel ways of looking at things. They enjoy coming to new understandings. They tend to be insightful and mentally quick; however, this mental quickness may not always be outwardly apparent to others since they keep a great deal to themselves. They are very determined people who trust their vision of the possibilities, regardless of what others think. They may even be considered the most independent of all of the sixteen personality types. INTJs are at their best in quietly and firmly developing their ideas, theories, and principles.
—Sandra Krebs Hirsch[12]
Hallmarks of the INTJ include independence of thought and a desire for efficiency. They work best when given autonomy and creative freedom. They harbor an innate desire to express themselves by conceptualizing their own intellectual designs. They have a talent for analyzing and formulating complex theories. INTJs are generally well-suited for occupations within academia, research, consulting, management, science, engineering, and law. They are often acutely aware of their own knowledge and abilities—as well as their limitations and what they don't know (a quality that tends to distinguish them from INTPs). INTJs thus develop a strong confidence in their ability and talents, making them natural leaders.
In forming relationships, INTJs tend to seek out others with similar character traits and ideologies. Agreement on theoretical concepts is an important aspect of their relationships. By nature INTJs can be demanding in their expectations, and approach relationships in a rational manner. As a result, INTJs may not always respond to a spontaneous infatuation but wait for a mate who better fits their set criteria. They tend to be stable, reliable, and dedicated. Harmony in relationships and home life tends to be extremely important to them. They generally withhold strong emotion and do not like to waste time with what they consider irrational social rituals. This may cause non-INTJs to perceive them as distant and reserved; nevertheless, INTJs are usually very loyal partners who are prepared to commit substantial energy and time into a relationship to make it work.
As mates, INTJs want harmony and order in the home and in relationships. The most independent of all types,[13] INTJs trust their intuition when choosing friends and mates—even in spite of contradictory evidence or pressure from others. The emotions of an INTJ are hard to read, and neither male nor female INTJs are apt to express emotional reactions. At times, INTJs seem cold, reserved, and unresponsive, while in fact they are almost hypersensitive to signals of rejection from those they care for. In social situations, INTJs may also be unresponsive and may neglect small rituals designed to put others at ease. For example, INTJs may communicate that idle dialogue such as small talk is a waste of time. This may create the impression that the INTJ is in a hurry—an impression that is not always intended. In their interpersonal relationships, INTJs are usually better in a working situation than in a recreational situation.

        As I've thought about spiritual gifts, empathy, and relationships over the past few months, I've been reminded again and again of Bryant and Rachel Ward's dog Wallace. My roommate Ben Carr and I experienced Wallace for a long time only as a large, energetic dog in a small apartment who was always jumping onto the Wards' guests and having to be restrained and locked away. Neither Ben nor I had had an especially high opinion of Wallace-- we thought of him as rather goofy and ridiculous, in fact. But the story doesn't end there. Last year around this time, Ben and I went hiking with Bryant, Rachel, another friend, and (you guessed it) Wallace. I also spent a week and a half living with the Wards in their house, which had a nice big yard for Wallace to run around in. In both situations, Wallace was a completely different animal. He was happy AND well-behaved. He had found-- or returned to, depending on how you look at it-- his niche: the outdoors.
Bryant and Rachel-- happy birthday (and parenthood!)
       At various points in our lives, we all feel like Wallace in that apartment, or "like a fish out of water," as the idiom goes. At other times, we're in our element. What I want to communicate to you all is that, when we interact with people, we should make allowance for the effect of setting on behavior. People need grace-- especially when they're sick or think they're sick. As my personality description above implies, I struggle with providing this grace, especially when the person or patient is being irrational. I truly want and expect people to make sense, like Wallace when he's on the trail, a salesman when he's making a pitch, or a housewife who's cooking a meal. But the challenge of our post-paleolithic existence is that most of us are out of our element most of the time. We can make some progress in our own lives by moving towards a paleo lifestyle, improving our strengths, eliminating weaknesses, et cetera-- but the most important change we all need is a new, softer, more Christ-like heart.

      We are enjoined to desire and seek the kingdom of heaven as a precious jewel—the kingdom in which everything will be made right and we will all truly be in our element. My prayer this week has been 1 Timothy 1:5, that the “aim of our charge” would be “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” May these things become more of a reality in our hearts today and each day of our lives as we wait for the ultimate fulfillment of our hearts’ deepest desires-- the day when our individual weaknesses will become obliterated as we experience perfect oneness in the Spirit in the worship of the Father and the Son.

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