We just got back from visiting four National Parks in Utah. I was amazed by the spectacular sights we saw, like the towering rock walls in Zion, and the strange looking “hoodoo” rocks in Bryce Canyon.
I was even more amazed, however, that we could spend eight days traveling with another couple, and at the end of the trip, be even fonder of them than when we began.
I proposed a toast to the other couple at the end of our Utah trip, and I gave them the highest compliment I can give someone. I told them they were “easy” people.
We spend a lot of time talking about difficult people, and they are obviously on our minds more than easy people. This time, however, it was easy people who were on my mind. What makes a person easy, I wondered?
It’s not their types. The man we were traveling with is an ISFJ, and his wife is an ESTJ. ISFJs can be over-sensitive and anxious in new situations. He was not. ESTJs can be controlling and critical. She was not. In fact, if I had not known their types from years ago, I would have had a very hard time figuring them out. They were clearly mature people who had learned to control the negative tendencies of their types in consideration for others.
We had a lot of time in the car and at dinner to talk. We all told anecdotes about our work, relationships, and past vacations, but our friends made sure that everyone got equal talking time. They had traveled extensively, so their stories were interesting, but if they had talked for a while, they would ask questions to get stories from us. When it came time to listen, they showed interest, and let us know that we’d been heard.
They made no demands on us, like keeping us waiting, being inflexible or making us listen to bickering between spouses. They looked after our needs, making sure there was a Diet Coke in the backpack for me every day, for instance, and that our hikes were easy enough not to hurt my husband’s knees. If there were plans to make, they made sure we were involved in the decision-making. When we did something for them, we were heartily thanked. They remained calm and good-natured even when circumstances got trying, like standing in the sun waiting for a bus to the rental car center, or when we couldn’t buy a package of Tums because the local Mormons don’t open their shops on Sunday. They smiled and laughed often, bringing sunshine to our group, and to the taxi drivers and other tourists we met.
Social scientists have found that one of the key ingredients to our success as a species is our ability to cooperate, and we’re able to cooperate because we have an instinctive desire to reciprocate, to return “tit for tat.” Think about how hard it is not to return a smile with a smile, or a frown with a frown.
On our Utah trip, it was all kindness being volleyed back and forth. Our friends were thoughtful and respectful in their words and deeds, and it was easy to send that back to them. That’s what we mean by “easy” people, I guess. They are skilled at keeping the cooperative ball in play.
On this trip, I was amazed by how beautiful nature can be, but also by how beautiful people can be. We all have them in our lives - people who are easy to be with - and every once in awhile, we should probably spend some time thinking about them, learning from them, and thanking them. After all, it’s not easy to be an easy person, it takes practice, and they deserve something extra in return for the extra they give - tit for tat.
These past few months have been full of reunions. For me as an ESTJ,
one of the nice things about reunions is that they are planned, and I
can schedule them well in advance. As a “Planful J” on the MBTI® Step
II™ assessment, planning leisure activities is a joy for me.
First, there was the reunion with the JMK Club (Jean, Mary, Kay), three of us who grew up in the same neighborhood in the 1950s. The ENFJ, Mary, organized and hosted it on Sanibel Island, Florida, a place we had spent several Christmas holidays together as children. That was the time when you had to take a ferry to get to the island; all the island merchants donated gifts so that each child there at the holidays got a present.
Mary had rented a house for six weeks and scheduled in multiple groups. She knew the best times to go out to eat and to see local events. She was an incredible hostess as extraverted Feeling types usually are!
My sister, the INTJ, was grateful for Mary’s understanding of her need to have alone time. We two Extraverts often went off on our own, biking to different spots on the island. We struck up conversations with people wherever we were that led us to new places to explore.
Next was a college reunion in Grinnell, Iowa. Given that I’m an “Intimate Extravert,” I had chosen to stay in a B&B with another college friend, away from the larger group of classmates. We had time for quiet talks.
Then I had a reunion with the group I met in Australia celebrating my Aussie friend Judy’s 60th birthday (see my Gifts Differing blog post on that one). We live in five different countries and have since met in France, the Netherlands, England, and this summer in North America.
Yes, everyone had taken the MBTI instrument and that was quite helpful in planning. All were Extraverts with the exception of one, so we made sure there was lots to do. And all were Judging types with the exception of the ESFP, who went along with anything. I had the schedule posted on a large piece of flipchart paper at the front door with both open times and scheduled events.
Next up was the MBTI User’s Conference in England, which served as a sort of reunion, because I saw many of my MBTI friends from years past when I used to do trainings in England. Like many MBTI conferences, there were lots of Intuitives present, so it was interesting to see what’s new on that side of the Atlantic. (Check out OPP’s blog for postings on my keynote there.)
Then there was my partner’s family reunion at the Lake Mansfield Trout Club in Vermont. It was fun seeing a new set of family traditions in a place steeped with traditions of its own (like a conch shell being blown three times in three directions to announce meals – perhaps this doesn’t scare the fish!)
Tired yet? Next was a reunion with several high school friends in Galena, Illinois. They are all Feeling types, and we shared family stories and what it means to be our ages in our stages of life (see my recent blog post Caregiving). Then I visited my 100 year old father, an INTJ (see My INTJ Father), and had the experience of watching him being filmed for a Korean TV show on nutrition.
It was on to Dublin, Ireland from there for an annual summer institute based on the theories of psychiatrist Alfred Adler (see my blog post on The Crucial C’s). At that one, those who attend who do know the MBTI usually have NF preferences. There were lots of activities, possibilities, insights, etc.
Next was a reunion in southwestern Kansas for my Mother’s side of family (see the Synchronicity and Kemp Ridley Turtles post for a story of one uncle). Yes, at one family reunion years ago, everyone took the MBTI assessment with a mix of types.
Several aunts (Ruth, ISFJ and Verna, INFJ) had died in the past year and were remembered fondly in memorial services by their children. Aunt Verna had figured out a way to lure family back to the farm in (a rather desolate part of) Kansas—just put in a swimming pool and float big tractor tire inner tubes to keep us visitors entertained. We swam again in the pool and retold stories.
I feel blessed to have so many connections with so many people; knowing their types adds to that blessing. And note too that this post became a reunion of blog posts!
I am at the age where many of us are struggling with caring for our
parents, either from long distance or from up close and personal.
Recently the mother of one of my long-time friends (of 50+ years)
suffered a health crisis. Other friends have chimed in offering long
Here’s one of the emails she got (with names removed) from our friend Elizabeth, an ESFJ. Elizabeth, who has a Master’s degree in audiology, was her parents’ primary caregiver for 18 years. I have Elizabeth’s permission to print it.
“...thanks for keeping us in the loop...I'm glad your mom is home and I can only imagine how hard that was for your dad and your mom to be apart that long [first time in 67 years]. I guess it is a testimony to something...no matter how cranky our parents can get with each other (and mine certainly did get that way at times) they are anchors for each other.
I'm sure your mom is facing a lot. I know there were plenty of times I didn't understand my mother's lack of enthusiasm or even interest in doing things that might have made her life "better" ...I think at some point I finally got a glimpse that she had lost so much of her life as SHE wanted it that "improvements" weren't her focus.
I would sometimes have to tell her that if she didn't have the strength to help get out of her wheel chair that I would no longer be able to care for her at home...it was true and sometimes motivating to her.
In the end, I had to accept the fact that Mama wasn't really working to get better or to make it easier for me. She was on her own path and not one that I always loved even though I always loved her.
I remember clearly the day I called my brother in California in tears and told him I couldn't do it any longer...Mama had spit out her daily pills....I was so frustrated at what I saw as her non-compliance. The truth was that she was done and I just wasn't programmed to get that message because of my own plan for her.
I think it is hard for us in our good health and relative youth to imagine what life might look like from their perspectives...I think Mama was so depressed with all she couldn't do that she didn't see the glimmer of what might be possible. It is a hard place for them and hard for us caregivers.
I totally get the frustration and the difficult part you and [your sisters] are sharing. I literally spent the first five years of my caregiving being mad...mad at my sister for not helping and mad that I couldn't reshape my parents into the people I needed them to be.
I didn't like the realities of the caregiving....I fought how hard it was. It wasn't until year 6 that I regrouped and figured out that caregiving was what I was doing and once I really embraced that it was easier....and even though it seems like it will go on forever, it won't….”
I am blessed with these friends who live their empathy, who are willing to readjust their thinking, and who provide love to those around them.
I never talk about politics outside of my family, but during election years people often let their views get into the conversation. Then I’m stuck with hard knots in my stomach concerning friends and relatives that I usually get along with. There are so many good reasons to be annoyed at people, why do we have to add silly reasons, choosing sides in the game of politics and wishing the worst on each other for nothing that we have actually done or ever will do. I wish I could move to another place during election years, and just come back when it’s all over.
I don’t know how it is for people of other types, but for an NF, who wants to feel in harmony with the human race, politics can cause a very painful disconnect from half of humanity. I have been trying my whole life to find some way to keep the good feelings toward my friends and relatives going through election years.
There is one thing that has helped a lot in recent years. It’s an insight I heard from Craig Rider, CEO of the consulting firm, the Rider Group, and an ENFP. I was interviewing him for an issue of The Type Reporter with the theme, “Our Favorite Type Breakthroughs.” I loved his insight so much that I made it the last paragraph of the last issue of The Type Reporter…
we asked people to get into type-alike groups and start writing down how
they would describe their ideal community. The Fs came up with things
like “inclusion,” “beauty” and “diversity.” The Ts came up with things
like “good infrastructure,” “solid financial situation” and “low crime
noticed however, that after awhile, the Fs started writing down
Thinking-related things, and the Ts started writing down Feeling-related
things. You could draw a line at the point where they started to switch
over to the other side.
I had a big breakthrough that day. I realized that most of our conversations take place above the line, where we’re talking about our priorities, and that’s why we start digging trenches and getting into arguments. If you let people go for about five minutes more however, it becomes clear that they all want the same list of things; they just differ on what is most important. If we could remember that, it would make it a lot easier to keep listening to each other, and problems would get solved a lot faster.
When I showed this to my husband, John, he loved it too because he’s often experienced it in his consulting work. “We tell people they are in ‘violent agreement,’” John said. “They really agree, but they can’t let themselves see that because they’re passionate about their own priorities. They need a facilitator to put their ideas on the board and point out how they are both important to the organization’s goals, and to focus the group on how they can do both.
“What it boils down to is that people need to acknowledge each other’s points of view. It’s as simple as that. If people could just preface their opinions with something like, ‘I agree that what you are saying is important because….’ the other person would feel that they were heard, and be more able to listen to other ideas.”
I don’t use Rider’s insight to calm a group, but I use it to calm myself. When I feel myself reacting like Pavlov’s dog to political differences, I try to remind myself that we all have the same items on our list for an Ideal America, but different things on the top half. The people from the “other” party, so angry and certain that the world is going to hell, are protecting things I also want to preserve, but I am not inspired to take care of myself. If I can get past the nastiness, I can see through to a natural order, very much like the type theory, where all of the work is divided and all of the work is taken care of. It’s a much better place to spend an election year.
I went back to my hometown recently for my nephew’s wedding, and I was in the company of my ten brothers and sisters. I hadn’t seen most of them in about five years, so there was a lot of catching up to do.
After the wedding, when I was back home, there were two thoughts that kept popping into my head. One was…
“People never change.”
The other was…
“Boy, have we changed.”
The first thought, “People never change” kept coming to me because it seemed that all of my brothers and sisters had the same virtues and vices they had when they were little kids and we were all running around that big house together. My ISTJ sister is still entertaining or annoying us with her many opinions. My ESFJ sister is still comforting or annoying us with her motherly attentions. My ISFP brother is still charming or annoying us with his gentle spirit. You get the picture, so I won’t go through all ten of them. All I can say is that I kept feeling déjà vu. I’d been there before.
It disturbs me to realize that people don’t change, because I’m an INFJ. My greatest joy in life is trying out new ideas for personal growth. The type theory was one of those ideas, so was learning to be a good listener, to express my needs without anger, to be self-loving, attuned to the present and content with the life I have. I feel like I have gone through tremendous changes in my life, and I’m a completely different person than I was when I was a kid.
But the truth is, I was relating to my brothers and sisters in exactly the same way I did when I was a kid, playing the role of the wise counselor or the person with big ideas for improving the world. Sometimes it was welcome, other times it was not, but I was dismayed at seeing how little I had changed.
In the type community, we talk of “type development.” We make it our goal to practice the strengths of our type only when it’s appropriate and to be flexible enough to call on something else when it’s needed. I love that goal, and the pursuit of it takes us to exciting places.
Let’s not delude ourselves, however, that our personalities are like soft clay that we can stretch and shape at will. I’m beginning to realize they are more like great hunks of granite, and although we may be able to make tiny chips around the edges, 99% of it remains exactly the same.
That brings me to the second thought that kept coming into my head after being with my family, which is, “Boy, have we changed.” Yes, we all had the same virtues and vices, but there was something very different in our gathering. There was a peace, an acceptance of each other that had not been present in any of the gatherings before this.
You know the prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I think that after five or six decades of trying to change each other, we finally had the wisdom to know that none of us were ever really going to change, and the serenity to say, “So be it.”
People talk about growing older only in terms of its bad side - the weakening body. They don’t talk about the fact that there is also a mind growing stronger, a mind that can finally accept both sides of people, and best of all, both sides of itself.