Saturday, May 24, 2008

Personality Perspicuity

I just took Dr. Phil's Personality Test on my Facebook. It's not that I hold Dr. Phil (or Facebook tests for that matter) in high regard. Pop psychology does not truth make. This is the resulting canned, computerized analysis:

Your Dr. Phil's Personality Test Score: 47

Others see you as someone they should "handle with care." You're seen as vain, self-centered, and extremely dominant. Others may admire you, wishing they could be more like you. However, they don't always trust you, hesitating to become too deeply involved with you.

First, I notice that this purports to elucidate others' opinions rather than the test-takers own self-image... by asking questions about the test-taker. The only way I know that such questions could be accurate indicators is if it is demonstrated that the opinions others hold normalize relationships with the test taker that are consistent with common human experience resulting in predictable indicators in the emotional and behavioral construct of the test-taker. Otherwise, such a test is mere sophistry.

I can't speak for the way others view me. Assuming that this test is accurate, I'll compare this to who I really am and how I want others to view me and see if there's something that can be done about rectifying the difference.

"You're seen as vain, self-centered..."

I would say this is accurate. The fact that I'm posting this is evidence. Of course, we all are. But the human will is not so monolithic to stop there. I suppose I could stop eating, because feeding myself is rather self-serving. But if I die, then that just places a burden on others. In conversation, everyone I know are self-oriented. I've counted the items of self-interest that people offer to others and my self-discourse is rather low. In fact, I make it a point to ask others about themselves before I say anything about myself. I truly am interested in others. Few people return the favor and ask anything about me.

So the perception doesn't wash with reality. Here in these virtual pages I'm an author writing to a general audience and must necessarily be transparent, but in real life I'm either very quiet or boisterously enjoying the company of others. I often refrain from being transparent in real life because I fear being seen as self-centered and I'm aware that much of my considerations are incomprehensible to most. Can you imagine someone striking up a casual conversation on the debate on free will between Luther and Erasmus or the problems with string theories in quantum mechanics? It's not polite to confuse people on purpose.

"You're seen as... extremely dominant."

I seriously doubt this. People don't ask me to lead anything precisely because they don't see me as extremely dominant. I'm not a type A personality in the least. It's not that I can't lead. I'm just not perceived as being dominant enough to lead. So, I find it difficult to assume that this is true. Often, I call someone's name to get their attention several times before they realize that someone is talking to them. I'm clueless as to how to get people to listen to me when I have something important to say, and at my level of intelligence I have much that is important to say. I've just learned that other people will figure it out on their own without me if given enough time, so I usually keep my trap shut.

"Others may admire you, wishing they could be more like you."

With regard to music, this is obvious. Musical performance is overt and many have expressed a desire to perform music like I do. I have had some indication that people believe me to be intellectual. They generally don't seek me out in this regard, however.

"However, they don't always trust you, hesitating to become too deeply involved with you."

I can see this, but I don't understand it. Perhaps they perceive that I'm not very transparent. Maybe if I talked about myself more, they would think that I was less self-centered and trust me more. No. This is the difficult balance. People trust transparency, but not conceit. You become transparent by talking about yourself. You exude conceit by taking about yourself. You build relationships by exchanging information about each other. Almost everyone I meet doesn't want to know anything about me, so they don't ask. I try to encourage a relationship by asking people questions about themselves and offering bite-sized pieces of information about myself if they don't ask.

I suspect that most people don't want to become heavily involved because they sense that there is more to me that they cannot tap into. My wife and I watched National Treasure last night. At some point she made some offhand reference to "intellectual geeks". I asked her about it and she said people like this make normal people like her feel stupid. I think this is the key: if people don't trust me it's because they cannot understand me and I challenge their self-image.

Oddly, it's the "least of these" type of people I can most easily befriend because they don't have any illusions about their place in the world. If I want to spout off something they don't understand, they don't get put off by it. They just say they don't have a clue and love me anyway. I think this is part of what Christ was talking about when He said we needed to be like little children. Adults believe they have something to lose by following Christ. Children know they don't.

God can be difficult to understand. Some deal with it by resorting to anti-intellectualism. They say, "I don't understand all that stuff, so it doesn't matter." Others deal with it by creating a small god that they can understand. That's dangerous. Children know they don't understand and struggle to grow up so they can. May we struggle in our relationship with God and out relationships with each other so that we can learn to understand better.

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