Okay, I finally caved. I had been debating whether to take the Myers & Briggs Type Indicator to determine my personality type ever since reading about the pervasive and powerful influence of personality in all aspects of life. It started when I read Mark Twain's story What Is Man? The author has his character discourse on the importance of temperament, saying a man "must content the spirit that is in him—he cannot help it.... YOU CAN'T ERADICATE YOUR DISPOSITION NOR ANY RAG OF IT—you can only put a pressure on it and keep it down and quiet."
As Twain would have us believe, our temperament, which is always "born, not made," is our personal "master." It is our "spiritual appetite." And we must satisfy it or be forever unfulfilled. Beliefs and convictions strive in vain against a person's innate bent, so it pays, as Socrates says, to "know thyself." It also costs, but we'll get to that.
Not only famous novelists and ancient Greeks but also modern psychologists (for instance Carl Jung, on whose theories the MB test is based) have emphasized personality's primary importance in how we relate to the world, ourselves and each other.
As Rudolf Steiner says, "Temperament, that fundamental coloring of the human personality, plays a role in all manifestations of individuality that are of concern to practical life." Even Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, names three types, which he says dominate our day-to-day engagements. And I have dabbled in astrology, which is itself a sort of personality assessment, with each of the twelve signs having its distinct features. Of course, a person's horoscope wheel is a complicated creature, with ten planets each governing an aspect of life, and twelve houses besides. The expert astrologer is rare, and the novice is often led astray at the drugstore magazine rack. While not as simple as the humor system devised in B.C. Greece, with its 4 temperament types, the Myers & Briggs with its 16 is a suitable compromise.
I had sat for the Myers & Briggs test once in my thirties. It was mandatory for all the medical residents in the family medicine program at the University of Colorado. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the program director hoped to foster interdepartmental relations by pairing up compatible types, or divvying up duties. This would make sense, as some temperaments make better writers, while others are more at home in a research setting. Anyway, I refused to let the powers that be (or were) peer into my soul, and I don't like being told what to do, so I filled out the test at random, seeing what lively patterns I could make with the bubbles. Maybe this aversion to coercion says more about my personality than the test itself. I can't remember my results exactly, other than that I scored high on "introversion." Which is how I scored the other day when I took the test again, this time seriously, and for $50. I paid this amount without thinking twice, because it was my own decision. Liking to be the boss of oneself is probably a universal trait.
The test generates a personality type based on the four dichotomies "specified or implicit in Jung's theory." Within each dichotomy are two preferences, somewhat opposite each other. The first dichotomy is called "favorite world." The question that is asked is whether you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world. This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).
Then comes information. Do you prefer to focus on the basic information or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).
Decisions comes next. When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).
Finally, structure. In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
The 16 distinctive personality types result from the interactions among the preferences. When you decide on your preference in each category, you have your own personality type, which is then expressed as a code with four letters. I suppose a quick way to determine your type is to simply answer the above four questions, and the form has 93. In the interest of inclusivity, I suppose, earnest ploy to separate you from your lunch money.
When I took the test on the Myers-Briggs website, I scored INTP. Intuitive introvert who emphasizes thinking and perceiving over judging and feeling. Ideal jobs for such types include research, mathematics and engineering, but also psychology and philosophy. I am somewhat interested in some of these pursuits, but I don't spend much time pursuing any of them. Instead, I write a blog. So this type doesn't seem to be a perfect fit. But according to the website, the test is "both valid and reliable. In other words, it measures what it says it does (validity) and produces the same results when given more than once (reliability)." And as Twain states, "men's inborn temperaments ... remain unchanged through all the vicissitudes of their material affairs."
Maybe, but apparently not for me.
I took a version of the test a second time and scored INFP, meaning in decisions I am more swayed by people and special circumstances over cold logic. I took it a third time, on another website, and this time scored INFJ, and finally INFP again. In my case F stands for fanatic. But I identify most closely with the INFP type, since these "mediators" are most at home in the fields of poetry and writing, especially of blogs. They are also actors. I'm cool with this, especially because the mediators of the world include Johnny Depp, who is also cool.
Of course I know that reliability only applies to re-taking the same, rather than similar versions of it. And as even the Myers-Briggs people allow, the preferences within each dichotomy exist on a continuum. So my results merely indicate that I am fairly balanced in the ways I make decisions and deal with the outside world, but that I am an introverted intuitive through and through. Unless I'm at a keg party. Then F is for fun at keg parties.
Of course temperament is not everything, and you are not its complete slave, as even Twain says. Training is also important. Education and instruction, whether compulsory or elective, polish the personality and smooth out any proverbial rough edges. And one of the perks of living in the modern age is you have instant access to all forms of knowledge. You can truly be a student of the world, and without ever leaving the couch.
Remember that your personality, like your physical body, is merely a vehicle that gets the spirit through life. Just as you are not your arm or your leg, but these are merely appendages of the living corpse you happen to inhabit in this moment, the true you is not merely an introvert or an extrovert, a thinker or a feeler. The successful individual is able to effectively employ these methods of relating to the world in any given situation, at will and with ease. However, your essential nature encapsulates all these traits and goes so far beyond all that is. As free consciousness you are beyond characterization. You are the air that carries fragrance but has no scent, the light that ignites the world in which objects are seen. You are the light. Thanks for shining your mind on me.