Appreciating Differences in People

If I do not want what you want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong.

Or if I believe other than you, at least pause before you correct my view.

Or if my emotion is less than yours, or more, given the same circumstances, try not to ask me to feel more strongly or weakly.

Or yet if I act, or fail to act, in the manner of your design for action, let me be.

I do not, for the moment at least, ask you to understand me. That will come only when you are willing to give up changing me into a copy of you.

I may be your spouse, your parent, your offsping, your friend, or your colleague. If you will allow me any of my own wants, or emotions, or beliefs, or actions, then you open yourself, so that some day these ways of mine might not seem so wrong, and might finally appear to you as right — for me. To put up with me is the first step to understanding me. Not that you embrace my ways as right for you, but that you are no longer irritated or disappointed with me for my seeming waywardness. And in understanding me you might come to prize my differences from you, and, far from seeking to change me, preserve and even nurture those differences.

The point of this book is that people are different from each other, and that no amount of getting after them is going to change them. Nor is there any reason to change them, because the differences are probably good, not bad.

People are different in fundamental ways. They want different things; they have different motives, purposes, aims, values, needs, drives, impulses, urges. Nothing is more fundamental than that. They believe differently: they think, cognize, conceptualize, perceive, understand, comprehend, and cogitate differently. And of course, manners of acting and emoting, governed as they are by wants and beliefs, follow suit and differ radically among people.

Differences abound and are not at all difficult to see, if one looks. And it is precisely these variations in behavior and attitude that trigger in each of us a common response: Seeing others around us differing from us, we conclude that these differences in individual behavior are but temporary manifestations of madness, badness, stupidity, or sickness. In other words, we rather naturally account for variations in the behavior of others in terms of flaw and afflictions. Our job, at least for those near us, would seem to be to correct these flaws. Our Pygmalion project, then, is to make all those near us just like us.

Fortunately, this project is impossible. To sculpt the other into our own likeness fails before it begins. People can’t change form no matter how much and in what manner we require them to. Form is inherent, ingrained, indelible. Ask a snake to swallow itself. Ask a person to change form–think or want differently–and you ask the impossible, for it is the thinking and wanting that is required to change the thinking and wanting. Form cannot be self-changing.

Of course, some change is possible, but it is a twisting and distortion of underlying form. Remove the fangs of a lion and behold a toothless lion, not a domestic cat. Our attempts to change spouse, offspring, or others can result in change, but the result is a scar and not a transformation.

The belief that people are fundamentally alike appears to be a twentieth century notion. Probably the idea is related to the growth of democracy in the Western world. If we are equals then we must be alike. Freud believed we are all driven from within by Eros, and that what seem to be “higher” motives are merely disguised versions of Eros. His colleagues and followers took issue with him, though most retained the idea of singular motivation. Adler (1956) saw us all seeking power (and later social solidarity). Sullivan (1940) took up the later Adlerian theme and put social solidarity as the basic instinctual craving. Finally, the Existentialists–e.g., Fromm (1941)–had us seeking after the Self. Each appealed to instinct as purpose, and each made one instinct primary for everybody.

Jung (1923) disagreed. He said that people are different in fundamental ways even though they all have the same multitude of instincts (archetypes) to drive them from within. One instinct is no more important than another. What is important is our preference for how we “function.” Our preference for a given “function” is characteristic, and so we may be “typed” by this preference. Thus Jung invented the “function types” or “psychological types.”

At about the same time (the turn of the century) another European psychiatrist, Kretschmer (1925), said that there are very basic differences in temperament. We are divided into two opposed temperamental camps, the “schizoid” and the “cycloid.” In saying this Kretschmer was getting at pretty much what Jung was, although their terminology and emphasis completely obscured this common ground. Both Jung and Kretschmer were ignored as far as their typologies were concerned, while those who spoke of sameness dominated both clinical and lay thought.

The differences of which Jung and Kretschmer spoke were known long ago. The Greek Hippocrates (McKinnon, 1944; Roback, 1927) told of four temperaments, easily recognized as schizoform and cycloform: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, and Melancholic. Many since have proposed basic differences in personality, temperament, or character, each in turn ignored. There would seem to be a kind of built-in reason for us to believe we are all alike. Yet there is so much advantage to thinking of people as different from each other in valuable ways, why neglect this approach? Typology is no less and no more “scientific” than the (fruitless) efforts of academic psychology to handle the problem of human differences. Science, after all, is no more than careful study, with self-imposed safeguards to keep from presupposing what one is setting out to prove.

Isabel Myers (1962) must be credited with bringing Jung’s typology to life. Her creation and refinement of a procedure for determining type in individuals opened the theory of types to research. Her invention, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, made possible the decades of research by Educational Testing Services (a Research Institute) and the amassing of vast amounts of information regarding the behavior and attitudes of the types in a wide variety of enterprises and walks of life. The Myers-Briggs Type indicator makes the Function Type theory of Jung available and personally significant to any individual.

Suppose it is so that people differ in the ways that Jung and Kretschmer believed. Then we do violence to others when we assume their differences to be flaws and afflictions. In this misunderstanding of others we also diminish our ability to predict what they will do. Likewise, we cannot even reward others should we want to, since what is reward to us is a matter of indifference to the other: “to each his own” is the old saying, now modernized as “different strokes for different folks.” To achieve the intent of these sayings will take a lot of work in coming to see our differences as something other than flaws.

The payoff of such work is that you can look at your spouse, for example, as a different person; someone you don’t quite understand, but someone that you can, with a sense of puzzlement perhaps, gradually come to appreciate. Similarly, you can gain an appreciation of your offspring, parent, superior, subordinate, colleague, and friend. If Jung and Kretschmer are right, much can be gained by this study.
Excerpted from Please Understand Me II – Copyright © 1998 David Keirsey, All rights reserved

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