How Much Does Personality Matter?
per·son·al·i·ty noun 1. the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character 2. the set of emotional qualities, ways of behaving, etc., that makes a person different from other people synonyms: character, nature, disposition, temperament, makeup, persona, psyche
(Disclaimer: For the purpose of this post I want to be upfront about pointing out that I am by no means implying that I have deeper than a surface level understanding of personality pathology. I merely aim to discuss the elementary concepts and my own personal observations. All of you readers who are more knowledgeable on the topic, feel free to comment below.)
Personality types are sometimes distinguished from personality traits in that types are said to involve qualitative differences between people, whereas traits might be understood as quantitative differences. This is a constant topic of conversation in my home because there are few two personalities more dissimilar than mine and my husband’s. Yet our differences are what make us work, and have for going on a decade now. They are what gives our unique relationship strength.
This is what some call the “Yin Yang” concept. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. It believes everything has both yin and yang aspects, such as how a shadow cannot exist without light. But what more accurately aligns with my beliefs, and that of common “Christianese,” would be how the church (the “body”) is made up of different parts. We all have very different and distinct purposes and roles, but together in unity we work and function like a healthy body. Operating in those complementary differences makes us whole.
But I have grown to think that some people use their “personality” as a ploy to justify their weaknesses or flaws. Because someone is inclined to react a certain way, is the naturalness of the response enough to validate it? And are these types and traits learned behavior or are they a part of our hard-wired nature?
Let us look at a type:
One example of personality types is the “Type A and Type B” personality theory. The concept describes “Type A” individuals as ambitious, rigidly organized, status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, take on more than they can handle, want other people to get to the point, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. “Type B” personalities typically work steadily, and enjoy achievement but are not necessarily competitive. They are attracted to careers of creativity: writer, counselor, therapist, actor or actress; however, network and computer systems managers, professors, and judges are known as “Type B” individuals as well. Their personal character enjoys exploring ideas and concepts; they are often reflective, and think of the “outer and inner world.”
According to this philosophy, I am Type A in that I am rigidly organized, impatient, to the point, and concerned with time management. Conversely, I am Type B in that I am not competitive, I enjoy creative occupations, and I am highly reflective. So the lack of clarity in placing my own self in one of these two categories begs me to put little importance on the weight of this personality theory as an explanation for my impatient responses or my uncompromising rejection when things are not “just so.” Yet despite the fact that these characteristics feel as much a part of me as my own right arm, I would say that these are still learned behaviors.
Now let us discuss a trait:
In psychology, the Big Five personality traits are five broad areas or dimensions of personality that are used to describe human personality, known as the five-factor model.
Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine.
Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.
Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”.
Using myself again as the guinea pig, I would rate myself high on openness to experience and conscienctiousness, low on extraversion and agreeableness, and I am a moderate score on neuroticism.
Applying this trait to real life: does my being an introvert justify my natural inclination to be anti-social? I would say no. It justifies my marrying an extrovert. Well that’s not the only reason, of course. It does explain why I crave quite solitude after busy weekends filled with social interactions. But it doesn’t justify my turning down an opportunity to invest in my friendships just because I’d rather be at home alone. Yet as much as I would like to say these traits are in my hard-wired nature, I have experienced enough of life’s changing tides to know that my environment, occupation, and other external matters affect these traits tremendously.
For example, when I am in third-world countries doing mission work, much of my own personality type and traits go out the window. My survival instinct kicks in and all of the sudden I am some different person entirely. I am flexible, patient, outgoing, helpful, and unfailingly positive. In these instances I can literally see myself doing what it must to best accomplish the task at hand. In these rare moments I am adaptable.
But how much does all of this matter? So what if we are all different? We all have to learn life’s unyielding lessons just the same. True, we all have different experiences that helped cultivate us into the adults we are today. And true, I think diversity is one of the most beautiful attributes of the human race. But every person, and personality, has its flaws. We all have weaknesses. Merely being aware of what our weaknesses are and being mindful of their existence is a healthy thing. But what is knowledge without action? The difference between knowledge and action is understanding. If we are not proactive with getting stronger where we are weak, then we are just accepting defeat in some way or the other.
Wait, didn’t I claim that I was not competitive? Well I suppose that was only partially true. I am competitive against my former self. I suppose the real purpose of this post is to challenge you to look at the things that make you, you. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, but remember that your character is what defines you. Let us make sure the definitions we give ourselves are ones we are proud of.
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” (Ernest Hemingway)