Wednesday, May 5, 2010

P is for Process: preamble

Now for a little bit of Meyers-Briggs talk. Of the four sets of toggles that combine to make the sixteen personality types in this scheme, the "J-P" split is the most difficult to understand. "Extrovert" and "Introvert" are fairly self-explanatory. So are "Thinking" and "Feeling." "Intuitive" and "Sensing" are even managable. But what are "Perceiving" and "Judging" supposed to mean? I think that they would have had a hard time doing a better job obscuring the issues if they had tried.

I knew it had something to do with being organized--the questions that sort out J's from P's have to do with whether you're neat or messy, and whether or not you're likely to be on time for something. It's something to do with planning. For a long time, I tried to describe it to people in terms of closure--do you prefer things being decided or open-ended? But all of these seemed lacking. Then two things happened this fall that helped me start thinking through the issue a little more.

The first was that I was working through the personality inventory questions with my parents, and I realized that the questions are about emotionally healthy and mature J's, but about unhealthy and immature P's. The readily identifiable lifestyle choices and tendencies that the questions highlight are biased.

The second was that a sociologist (someone who tests strongly P) came to our MOPs group to talk about Meyers-Briggs (and the ways that personality differences between parents and children can be addressed). It was an interesting talk by a man who has been working professionally with these materials for decades. I brought the handouts that he gave us home and my husband looked over them. "Oh," he commented. "Someone else who thinks that J's are morally superior to P's." (My husband tested J for years due simply to the fact that he thought that's what he was supposed to be.)

Our society is strongly biased for J's. It is run by J's, for J's, and indeed, many J's think that they are, in fact, morally superior to P's. (There is no allowance in our culture for many of the flaws that P's are most prone to).

But if we are all of us, J and P, made in the image of God; if in fact, humanity as a whole reflects God's image; if it is the J-P spectrum that reflects God . . . what does that tell us about this character trait? How do we understand the spectrum so that we can see the strengths of an emotionally healthy P and the flaws of an emotionally unhealthy J?

What I have come up with is this: P's are about process and J's about result. Put another way, P's are about the means and J's about the ends.

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