Personality types, good or bad?
We tend to resist being put into boxes, categories, “types”, because we are all unique, we really are. So, can studying personality types help in any way?
A common critique of personality types is that they put people in boxes. That makes me think of the joke, “I am a millennial, I don’t like labels!”.
The fact is that every tool we use to communicate from words to letters to labels and categories are all imperfect ways of describing something unique in the real world, by analogy or similarity.
If I need to describe a tree that you haven’t seen, I need to describe it in relation to other trees that you saw in the past, so that you can have an idea of what I am talking about. This is how communication works. It’s a product of human genius, we can hold on to abstract information to reason about the concrete world around us. No two trees will ever be the same, but categorizing a subgroup of plants as trees is helpful for communication.
Understandably we take it more personally when we are put into boxes ourselves versus trees or chairs or any other inanimate object in the world. But we really don’t need to. Just as describing a lily as a flower doesn’t strip it from its unique beauty, studying the characteristics of our psyche within a framework of personality types doesn’t mean we are 100% defined by it.
Categorization is a tool
Categorization is a tool we use to see patterns in the observable world. It helps us communicate about extremely complicated phenomena, understand them better and sometimes even predict future events or behavior based on the patterns and characteristics we study.
We all observe human behavior and patterns all the time. We make decisions and conclusions about them all the time. But to be able to discuss, understand and share, we can make use of a framework, a structure, a common denominator that we can base our common terminology on.
We are not all the same
Until we really get to observe humans for a while, we tend to assume that we are all the same. We expect people to have our values and behave the way we would in a given situation. These expectations cause disappointments, frustrations and anger towards one another. Studying personality types can help us come to terms with the fact that we are different and people behave differently in similar circumstances, not because they are behaving against some universal values but because their nature dictates a different reaction to those situations.
Studying humans spark compassion
I believe studying humans in any capacity sparks compassion for others. Personality types are no exception. Whether you study behavioral economics, clinical psychology or enneagram, the common insight we come across is that humans behave in patterns, sometimes quite predictable ones. It is not very easy for anyone to break out of these patterns. It doesn’t matter if you believe these patterns are rooted in genetics or early life experience, it’s hard to be mad at people after realizing that it’s not just something they decide.