The Common Good
September-October 2001

I'm Okay, You're Not…

by Ed Spivey Jr. | September-October 2001

It's not a matter of who's wrong or right, unless Santa somehow gets involved.

Our editorial staff recently took the Myers-Briggs personality profile test and discovered that, surprisingly, many of us have actual personalities. The test is designed to help people understand that disagreements often occur because different personalities see things in different ways, and not because some people are wrong. In my case, however, it's because other people are wrong. Nonetheless, I cooperated fully with the test and was hopeful that the rest of the staff could finally learn how to improve themselves. (I've been very patient.)

The tests were useful in many ways, and not just because we got to sit at the big conference table and eat donuts while we filled them out. The exercise reminded us that there are indeed two sides to every issue (or, as I helpfully pointed out, "my way or the highway"), and that if we understand this simple principle then disagreements don't have to deteriorate into emotional battles. Of course, what's the fun of working in an office if you can't have emotional battles? ("I was NOT chewing bubble gum during noon prayer! By the way, do you think an ice cube would help get that stuff out of my mustache?")

The test asks a series of carefully worded questions designed to determine the unique personality traits that make us who we are, such as:

  • • Are you comfortable in groups?
  • • At a party, would you describe yourself as funny and interesting?
  • • Those people who don't find you funny and interesting...is there, like, something wrong with them, or what?

    The resource person who interpreted the results of our tests was very helpful as she explained our different personality types. (I'm an Extroverted Intuitive Feeling Perceiving person, or ENFP, which is a really good personality type. So I think I won.) Then she said it's not about winning or losing, but about understanding yourself. (But, when pressed, she admitted she wasn't an ENFP herself, so I'm sensing a little envy here. We ENFPs get that a lot.)

    Actually, knowing how personality affects relationships is helpful on more than just an interpersonal level. Take China and the United States, for example. Their "personalities" could not be more different: In China, the government is run by a president who is not chosen by a process of fair and honest elections. Whereas, in the United States our president almost always is. Sort of.

    In China, the real power resides in the hands of a bloated and self-serving military. In our country, power resides with the people (which are defined by the Constitution as "bloated and self-serving wealthy donors"). In China, the government has very strict birth control laws to control the population. By contrast, the U.S. government decided years ago to stay out of our bedrooms (ever since it got caught hiding under the bed and giggling inappropriately).

    Anyway, you get the idea. But if you don't, I'll try to talk slower since you're probably one of those "other" personality types. Let me put it this way: If China and the United States were symbolized by two people, then the U.S. would be the husband sitting in a comfy chair holding the remote control. China would be the wife wearing a cone-shaped straw hat and working very hard around the house. Plus, she rides a bicycle most of the time and talks real fast in a language he doesn't understand.

    Clearly, they don't see "eye-to-eye." But it's simply because their personality types make them see things differently. The husband sees the glass as half empty (when he looks up during commercials). The wife sees the glass as an entry point to the World Trade Organization. She also sees the glass as an unacceptable justification for airborne surveillance over international waters. Obviously, she's a very complicated person that her husband doesn't understand. But then he probably shouldn't have dated exchange students in the first place (it's not like the guys in his dorm didn't warn him about it).


    But differences of perspective can often be a "win-win" situation for those involved. For example, environmentalists were outraged when President Bush insisted we put the arsenic back in our drinking water. On the other hand, 7-Eleven applauded the decision and promptly announced its new line of delicious Zesty Arsenic Slurpees.

    You see, win-win.

    Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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