The Crucial Tool We’re Not Using

Myers Briggs, the personality type tool, has a bad rap in some circles. There are two main objections: some complain that it lacks scientific rigour, its creators being women without degrees, while others have a passionate aversion to being ‘put into a box’. Both are unlikely to identify strongly with the others’ objections – because the former are naturally using Feeling, the latter Thinking .

But Type theory, built on the foundations of C. J.  Jung’s work, has a vital role to play in today’s epic struggle for a sane world, and a future for the life on Earth we love.

Idealists (Intuition combined with Feeling) can put a lot of time and energy into trying to change people’s minds, persuade them that system change is needed to stop complex systems unravelling. But those who naturally prefer Sensing are not wired to grasp complexity – they are much better at concrete facts than abstract ideas. Getting frustrated with them doesn’t change this fact; it just widens divisions. Someone with strong Sensing is much more likely to be persuaded by a dependable version of ‘how things are’ than a vision of ‘how things should be’, which is why David Attenborough succeeded where so many failed in preceding decades.

Sensing combined with Judging gives what Keirsey calls the ‘security seeking’ temperaments. People with this combo not only resist change, they find change hard to imagine. Tradition is all: what has worked before will work again. This starts to explain why some Brexiteers insist on the old story of Great Britain. Arguing otherwise is literally like telling someone red is green. They’re not being wilfully stupid: this is how they see the world, and their worldview is both real and firm. Pushing them doesn’t work, and only widens divisions.

However, as Howard Zinn has pointed out, adherence and obedience to existing hierarchies got us into this terrifying mess. Strategists (Intuition combined with Thinking) can take advantage of obedience and adherence to norms. If their primary interests are profit and power, they design self-interested systems for traditionalists to follow, and pay the media to keep feeding subtle ‘instructions’.

Conformity appears shocking to mavericks – but it’s just another way of being, with equally vital human roles distributed as proportionally as those of bees. That’s why we need maverick strategists to create a new normal for traditionalists to comply with: mavericks such as writers like George Monbiot, teenagers like Greta Thunberg and her growing number of colleagues, founders of movements like Extinction Rebellion.

Used carefully, type theory is an immensely useful and powerful tool for crossing the divides. It can also help ease tensions between those with Extraverted and Introverted Feeling, all defending Life (just one example of innate differences that cause distracting friction).

As you’re probably getting from this short piece, type theory is complicated. There are many reasons why it (or something like it) should be learned early: not least because we are all capable of honing our preferences and developing our less preferred functions – when we know they exist.

Myers Briggs isn’t perfect, any more than Darwin’s theory of evolution turned out to be. Everything is a work-in-progress. And it’s not unique: plenty of alternative models have sprouted from the work those two women did at their kitchen table. There are endless online resources, some more dodgy than others.

But perhaps the 101 we should all have a grasp of is that people express themselves, see the world, make decisions, and organise their lives, differently. When such diversity is ignored, we are divided – and divided, we fall. But when it works consciously for the greater good, it’s immensely powerful, healing and creative.