Alphabet soup

I usually distrust personality surveys. Dividing all the people in the world into just a few categories seems no more meaningful to me than relying on horoscopes. Admittedly, if one were to matrix the Chinese horoscope of twelve years with the Babylonian horoscope of twelve months, and then throw in the traditional poem about Monday’s child and Tuesday’s child, one would have more than a thousand categories—would you rather be a Taurus dragon who is fair of face or a Gemini rat who has far to go?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator strikes me as relatively accurate and useful, though, and not just because I like the nickname for my personality type. According to Myers-Briggs, my personality type is INT-J, also known as the Mastermind. This personality type seems to be relatively rare, with different sources measuring this type as belonging to anywhere from one to five percent of the population.

DISCLAIMER: I have done a small amount of internet research on this topic. I have a little training in psychology and in counseling, but I am by no means an expert in either field. The following observations are more about me than they are about the Myers-Briggs Type indicator.

The first letter, I, stands for introvert as opposed to extravert. Being an introvert is not the same as being shy, although the two can go together. An introvert is refreshed and empowered by being alone; an extravert is refreshed and empowered by being with other people. Introverts like me can teach a class or deliver a lecture, but afterwards we are tired and would rather be alone. Extraverts would follow a tiring day at work by going to a party somewhere, but introverts like me would prefer to stay at home with a good book. I am not going to belabor the point: many bloggers have written excellent posts about introverts. You may read two of them here and here.

The second letter, N, stands for intuition as opposed to sensing. This distinction is related to how people with different personalities prefer to gather information. Those who lean more toward intuition tend to use past experiences and knowledge already attained to process new information and experiences; those who lean toward sensing tend to be “in the moment,” trusting their senses, and less interested in the big picture. I would guess that Plato preferred intuition and Aristotle preferred sensing. My place in this distinction is not as easy for me to see as is the introvert rather than extravert distinction. On the other hand, when I teach history, I want my students to grasp the larger picture rather than focusing on the details. I do not want them to memorize things they can look up for themselves; I want to give them a reason to look up the details and an ability to understand those details when they research them.

The third letter, T, stands for thinking as opposed to feeling when making decisions. Of course, since I am Spock, I have no trouble accepting this description of myself. For as long as I can remember, I have believed that virtue is doing the right thing in spite of feelings—for example, courage is not the lack of fear, but rather the ability to do what is necessary in spite of fear. No one who wants to convince me of something by telling me about their feelings will have any luck changing my mind. Give me evidence, logic, and a reasonable argument, and I might change my mind.

The final letter, J, stands for judging as opposed to perceiving. This means that—already being labeled as intuitive rather than sensing and thinking rather than feeling—I now know that I will more likely use thinking rather than intuition to make a decision. Perhaps that is why I could see the introvert and the thinking more quickly than I could see the intuitive part of my personality.

I like the fact that this is a personality type, not a syndrome or a disorder. Moreover, I believe that all four descriptions could be viewed as a spectrum rather than a clear one-or-the-other choice. To be an introverted Platonic Spock does not seem like such a bad thing, though. It may not change much, but at least I now have some short-hand language to describe myself. And now you know more about me.


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