Myers Briggs, the personality type tool, has a bad rap in some circles.
There are two main objections. Some complain it lacks scientific rigour, its creators being women without degrees; others have a passionate aversion to being ‘put into a box’. The first group are using their Thinking function, the second Feeling.
Yet 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.
For example, Idealists (Intuition combined with Feeling) put a lot of energy into persuading people that a new level of consciousness is needed to stop complex networks of life unravelling. But those using Sensing don’t appreciate complexity – they’re much better at concrete facts than abstract ideas. Getting irritated with them doesn’t change this fact; it just widens divisions.
Someone with strong Sensing will be more open to a dependable version of ‘how things are’ than a vision of ‘how things should be’. It’s one reason David Attenborough succeeded where so many had failed.
Sensing combined with Judging gives what Keirsey calls the ‘Security Seeking’ temperament. People with this combo not only resist change, they can find it hard to even imagine. Tradition is all: what has worked before will work again, like the old story of Great Britain. This is how Security Seekers see the world, and their worldview is both real and firm. Push them, and they’ll push back.
As Howard Zinn has pointed out, adherence and obedience to existing hierarchies got us into this terrifying mess. Some self-interested Strategists (Intuition combined with Thinking) have taken advantage of obedience, and adherence to norms. designing systems for traditionalists to follow, and paying the media to keep feeding subtle ‘instructions’.
Conformity can appear shocking to mavericks. But it’s just another way of being; human roles are distributed proportionally, as with bees. That’s why Extinction Rebellion strategists (working with idealistic Visioners) need to create a generative, healthy ‘normal’ for traditionalists to support.
Used carefully, type theory is an immensely useful and powerful tool for crossing the divides. It’s also vital for the success of project work: for example, it can also help ease tensions between those with Extraverted and Introverted Feeling, a dynamic that can disrupt relationships – and the work – if it isn’t addressed.
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.
Jung’s work on Type is much more complex than the examples in this short piece. It would change how we relate if children learned these key concepts: we are all capable of honing our strengths 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 useful than others. But the 101 we could all usefully come back to is this:
People express themselves, see the world, make decisions, and organise their lives, differently.
When such diversity is ignored, we can be painfully divided. When it’s recognised and integrated, it can be powerful, healing, and creative: it helps us work consciously together for the greater good.