The Anarchy Zone

No, I am not making a political statement.  I’m talking about a movement in children’s playgrounds to encourage unstructured play.

Take a bunch of hay bales, some old tires, some planks, and maybe a climbing tree with an adult playworker…and what do you have: the Anarchy Zone.

Or create a huge mud puddle, add some tires and planks, buckets, tools and an adult playworker and voila…the Anarchy Zone. 

Now, who seems to have the most trouble adapting to these playgrounds?  Well, it’s the parents! (Ha, I bet you were thinking I was going to suggest a particular type or two!!)  Those playgrounds just do not look neat and clean and pretty.  And after playing with them, the children do not look neat and clean either. 

Why are Anarchy Zones catching on? 

Here are several reasons:

  • Kids who play outside in nature are more likely to enjoy nature as adults, and nature has a positive effect on mental health. 
  • Kids who play on these unstructured playgrounds are less likely to get injured than those who play on the more structured ones. 
  • Kids who take risks when they are young are less likely to indulge in risky behaviors (like drugs) later on.  (As an aside, a friend’s granddaughter in Norway is just “graduating” from her preschool to elementary school at the age of six.  To mark this passage, her school presents her with a jack knife.  She is trusted with this potentially risky instrument and is immensely proud of it; of course, she has been taught how to use it properly.)

Now if we look at this through the lens of type, what we are doing is encouraging the development of both Sensing and Intuition.

Sensing will help kids identify what is exactly there.  What are they playing with?  Are the materials soft, hard, movable, pileable?  They have to pay attention to reality to make things work.

Intuition will help kids figure out different ways to play with the objects.  Will they make forts, mountains, caves, or mud pies?  They have to look for possibilities.  And there’s no one right way to play. 
We’re asking children to develop their Intuitive-Perceiving (NP) side to explore – they’ll stay open to possibilities and switch things around constantly if they wish. 

They’re also utilizing their Sensing-Judging (SJ) side to learn exactly how things work, and they can test these things in order to keep themselves safe. 

In these scenarios we have faith in our children and believe they can be in the Anarchy Zone and still thrive.  With all the apparent chaos in our world, adults may at times feel a strong sense of impending anarchy.  We need to access SJ and NP strengths throughout our lives. Why not get started in childhood?


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I have moved several times in the past few years.  Moving is a pain!  While normally I like making decisions, the decisions involved in moving were not fun.  What to move…what to throw away…what to give away?  I’m an ESTJ, known to be organized and willing to make decisions.  But moving, well, moving is different. 

I have never been one of those people who sorts their closet twice a year getting rid of anything they haven’t worn in the past year.  I have numerous sizes of black pants, just in case.  I have my prom dresses (from nearly 50 years ago), just in case I ever have grandkids who want to play dress up. 

What I discovered in moving was how wonderful friends are for helping.  Through their eyes I could see the foolishness of moving multiple boxes of rags when only one box was needed. 

They did not stop and reminisce over clothing worn for special events, cherished books whose plot lines I loved, special knick knacks acquired on trips, etc.   They simply packed every cupboard I assigned them. Occasionally they would stop, hold up a broken something or a particularly unattractive something, and inquire.  They were right…toss it.

I did ask a relative, a librarian, how to handle books.  She said there are three categories of books to hang on to.  One, first editions – okay, I have none.  Second, books needed for your profession.  Oh dear, I have tons, although the word “need” is open to interpretation at times.  Third, highly sentimental books such as your first reader.  I did finally give away my set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. 

The librarian’s advice was useful up to a point.  What really helped was culling my books to contribute to a fundraiser.  Seeing a second life for books, or for anything for that matter, is a comfort.

Another technique I recently observed might work for you, too.  An ENFP friend was having difficulty sorting the sewing room of his late wife. There were lots of memories including the partially completed kayak cover she began making for him decades ago; he admitted she didn’t particularly like kayaking!

I spent hours with him boxing up dozens of zippers, reams of material, scraps of leather, piles of patterns, skeins of yarn, yards of lace, etc.

A dear friend of his (an ISFJ) knew what a trial it was to close out that sewing room.  She said we could cart it all over to her home, and she would go through it for her own art and sewing projects and then donate the rest to a new immigrant center.  This sharpened our focus because we did not have to decide about the usefulness of each item.  We just had to box it all up.

But you should have seen this friend’s husband’s face (an INTJ) when we unloaded box after box of sewing stuff.  They too are planning to move in a year and he was hoping this stuff would not remain as something for them to move. I did check with him recently – all the stuff has found a home.  Whew – and we’re still friends. 

I’m curious as to whether you have any techniques that could help in sorting and moving.   And how does type fit into the patterns or relationships that govern these decisions? 


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Fixing People

My bed was annoying me last night, so this morning I stripped everything off it and remade it again, with the sheets tucked in tight and the quilt coming just to my chin. When I went to open the windows, the dusty screens annoyed me, so I took them off the windows and brushed them clean. The car was annoying me with a funny sound, so this afternoon I took it up to the service station and got it tuned up.

Even though I might gripe about all of the annoying little problems in life, I do like the feeling of being able to fix them. With just a little effort, I can eliminate a problem. One day it’s here; the next day it’s gone. Lovely. 

I wish people were as easy to fix. I could strip off my friend’s talky-ness and adjust it so I can get a word in edgewise. I could take my daughter out and brush off her pickiness. I could take my husband up to the personality station and get his punctuality tuned up. 

Unlike objects, however, people get insulted at the very idea that you would try to fix them. They storm around and tell you you’re crazy for finding fault with them, and remind you of every good thing they’ve ever done for you. They give you the silent treatment or tell you to, “Go fix yourself.” (These are all things I do if anyone tries to fix me.)

People do not allow you to fix them; only they are allowed to fix themselves. That means that you have to somehow find a way to make them want to go to the trouble.

Can type be of any help? Yes it can, but not in the way you would think. You would think that type would be helpful in trying to determine what’s important to the other person and then presenting your case in those terms. For example, if you’re an intuitive, you might try to make a factual case to a sensing friend for why he shouldn’t tell you, “That won’t work” every time you talk about ideas for change.

The trouble with that approach is, there is nothing more annoying than hearing someone deliberately try to “talk your talk.” They never get it right, and it comes across as manipulative and insulting.

Type cannot help us in trying to be someone else, because that’s a fruitless task. Type can, however, help us in being ourselves. We need to be ourselves when we ask people to change, because the only reason they will go through the trouble is that they can see that their behavior is hurting us and they care about us, or they care about the work we do for them. When we ask people to change, we want them to be thinking about our needs, not their failures.  

Type can be enormously helpful in sorting through messy feelings and getting clear about why we are hurting. It can also give us the confidence to speak up, because in the great plan of psychological types, there are good reasons why we are the way we are.   

If you sit down and go through each letter of your type and list its needs, you can probably spot the needs that are not getting met in this particular relationship. For example, our frustrated N will see that intuitives really need to think about the future and how it can be improved, and the world needs to have people thinking about the future. 

When you think you can communicate your needs clearly, you don’t even need to use type jargon. You can just say something like, “Imagining a better world is the most important thing in life for me, and I need to share my thoughts with you, because you’re also important to me. Instead of talking about the flaws in my ideas right away, could we spend some time talking about how our lives would be better if they were real? It would make a big difference to me.”

Type has never been a tool to manipulate people by acting as if we are someone else. Type has always been a tool to understand ourselves better, and once in awhile, to communicate that understanding to others. Expressing our needs clearly and honestly doesn’t work all the time in “fixing” relationships, but in my experience it’s the only thing that ever works.  



Wedding Gifts

We’ve been to a lot of weddings lately (my kids are in their 20’s) and I’m beginning to notice something about them. These are occasions where you are very likely to notice things about extraverts and introverts. 

Last weekend we went to the wedding of my son’s best friend. During the reception after the ceremony, I stood and chatted for about 30 minutes with people I knew. Then I went looking for a chair. A few minutes after I sat down, a young woman sitting next to me introduced herself and we started talking. Later, I realized that my time with this stranger was the high point of the evening. She was always smiling, laughing, asking questions or telling stories. It was just the easiest thing in the world to fall into a long conversation with her, and in the back of my mind, I was thinking, “What a great extravert.” 

Her fiancé walked up and she introduced him. He was not at all like her. He was shy and awkward and it was difficult to get into conversation with him. But it wasn’t necessary, because she made conversation flow like a river after a rain. I could see why he would feel at home with her. I was guessing that he’s an I-T and as such, might excel in some high-earning technical field. That’s the thing I like best about type, because sometimes you can see people’s weaknesses and in the same moment, be reminded of their strengths.

Actually, that’s not the thing I like best about type. The thing I like best is how it helped me when my daughter was young. She’s an ISFJ, and when she was little, I worried about her shyness. I remember how anxious I felt at birthday parties when she’d refuse to leave my lap and run around with the other kids, or when I saw her standing quietly on the outside of groups. But the type literature always advised me not to worry or intervene, because introverted children will find their way socially; it will just take longer. I looked over at my daughter at the wedding, greeting people with all the charm and graciousness of a society hostess, and I was glad I’d had that calming advice when she was growing up.   

My ESFJ son was the best man, and after dinner, he gave a speech. He started off saying, “I’m sorry, I thought this was a roast,” and had people laughing or getting misty-eyed from that moment on. He was clearly in his element standing in front of a crowd, and parental pride aside, it’s a treat to see people in their element, at their best, in full bloom… it really is.

The bride and groom came up to say hello to me, and I realized something interesting. I’d only met the bride about a year ago, and since then I’d only seen her about three times, yet I felt like I’d known her forever. The groom, who was my son’s best friend, I’d known for 15 years. He’d played at my home several times a week. I’d watched all his basketball games, been there when his father died, when he and his brother fought over a girl, and when he graduated from high school. I’d even taught him writing for four years and wrote a recommendation for his college applications. I can truly say that I love this young INTJ, but after all that time, it’s surprising how little I feel that I know him.

After about three hours of meeting and greeting, I started to think about home. I always feel a little guilty at big gatherings, because so much work and expense went into giving me a good time, yet I just want it to be over soon. Then, on the way home, I wonder, “What’s wrong with me that I feel so empty?” That brings me to the first reason that I fell in love with type. It explained why. The book that introduced me to type was Please Understand Me, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, and I always remember this line about introverts after parties…

He is no party pooper; rather, he was pooped by the party.

For about the thousandth time since I read that line, I forgave myself for not being able to fully enjoy the gathering while it was happening. I also knew that in the next few days, when I was alone, and reflecting on this beautiful event, I would have the time of my life.


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Marriage Counsel

We were at dinner the other night with some friends. They were telling us that their INFP son is very unhappy in his marriage to an ESTJ woman. They said that their son feels disrespected and not listened to, while his wife thinks he is over-emotional and depressive. They said their son had talked to his wife numerous times about it but nothing was changing. Our friends asked me for some advice based on their types.  

I suggested that they advise their son to “talk ESTJ,” and I explained what that means…

  • Be direct and concrete. Instead of trying to change her feelings toward you, identify one or two behaviors that are causing you the most pain, and ask her if she would be willing to modify them. 
  • Let her know the tangible consequence of her behaviors, for example, the energy it drains from your work, partnering and parenting.   
  • To avoid defensive reactions, say you don’t want to hear her response just now, but set a date when you will talk about it again after she’s had time to process it.
  • Let her know that she can ask you to change one or two behaviors as well.
  • If she makes an effort to accommodate you, let her know when she’s being successful. She needs tangible proof of her accomplishments.
  • If this doesn’t work, look for a marriage counselor with a good reputation. ESTJs respect accredited authorities.

I was grateful to the type theory for allowing me to give suggestions to my friends, but on the way home, I had the feeling that my suggestions would not help. I’m not sure why - maybe it was the anxious look on my friends’ faces, but it didn’t sound like a marriage where changing a few behaviors would make much of a difference. It wasn’t just that they were opposite types, because those marriages can be happy and enriching. Rather, this sounded like a marriage where neither partner feels valued for their essential being… the qualities they love most about themselves. It sounded like the husband really resents her practical, take-charge personality and the wife can’t see the point of his harmony-seeking, reflective personality. 

I wished I could have given this couple the best advice I could offer, the advice that I didn’t get from books, but from hard-won experience. The advice I would have liked to give both the husband and wife is: if you find that your efforts to make things better aren’t making any difference, try to remember that life is abundant. It is full of people who will really enjoy your ST-ness or your NF-ness. When you do find someone like that, you will thrive like you never thought possible. You will probably have to go on a difficult journey first, to break off the old and find the new, but you can trust in life and its abundance. In the end you will look back and say, “Thank God (or thank life) that I did.” 

I’ve been in similar relationships, where in spite of our best efforts, we just didn’t “get” each other. I know how much it takes out of you. I also know how much it adds to your life when you find a partner that really loves you, not exactly the way you are, because we all have to adapt to others, but the way you most are.


Editor's note: CAPT offers a Type for Life guide for two people: Building Better Relationships. It includes a description of reported type preferences—for both of you, and an overview of how people of your types might relate to one another and live together.


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