“Those are nice wildflowers,” my husband said when we were walking in the woods. “They are,” I agreed.
Then I looked at them more closely. “Those aren’t wildflowers,” I said. “They’re weeds! I just spent the afternoon picking them out of my garden.”
“What’s the difference between a wildflower and a weed?” he asked. “That’s a good question,” I said, admiring how the flowers were a welcome surprise in the dark woods, and then remembering how they were choking out my daisies at home. “I guess it’s just location.”
I was remembering that conversation recently when we attended the funeral of my brother-in-law, Ed, who died recently of a heart attack. All of his life Ed went to great lengths to make life difficult for people, most often his family. So at his wake we were all astonished to see a steady stream of people lined up for five hours to tell his wife and sons that he had “saved their lives.” Many of them were sobbing. I shook my head in wonderment and thought, “I guess it’s just location.”
You see, Ed was a defense attorney, often taking on the most challenging cases, and he was very good at it. At home, he made life difficult for his family. At work, he made life difficult for plaintiffs and prosecutors, thereby often getting his clients a “not guilty” verdict.
We don’t know what type Ed would have identified himself as because he would never have a conversation about type, or anything personal. However, his wife had no doubt that, although he wasn’t very well-adjusted, he was an ESTP. She said that if you took away the friendliness and social sophistication, the profile fit him perfectly: active, resourceful, manipulator of the environment, risk taker, nerves of steel, ruthless pragmatist and skillful negotiator.
After the funeral, his family and friends were sitting around telling their favorite Ed stories, and I kept hearing “ESTP” in those as well. One of the men who had grown up in Ed’s neighborhood told about how, when they were boys, his friend was always talking about this cool guy who had lots of old cars and motorcycles. He accompanied his friend to the cool guy’s house, because they were told he needed their help for “just a minute.” Three hours later, after the two boys had helped Ed work on one of his old cars all afternoon in the hot sun, he gave them ice cream. “The thing is,” the man said, “Ed could make it sound like that was a fair exchange.”
ESTPs are usually good at selling people on whatever it is they are selling, because their extraverted sensing allows them to read people’s motivations through nonverbal cues. He probably picked up that the boys were feeling like hot shots for working on a car all afternoon, and ice cream was reward enough. I could imagine Ed using his sharp senses to “sell” a judge and jury as well.
It is said that life is never dull around ESTPs, and most of the stories his family told illustrated that point. Apparently, one of his favorite ways to generate excitement was to beat the system and get a good deal, even though he didn’t need the money. His sons told how he made them lie about their ages to get into amusement parks for children’s fees, and his wife said he made her carry her two-year-old in a blanket so they could pass him off as an infant and get him on the airplane for free.
She also told how he bought her a fur coat for half price by arguing for 30 minutes with the salesclerk about the value of its fox collar. He could shamelessly make himself such an annoyance to others that they conciliated just to get rid of him. ESTPs like to live on the edge, and it seems that the edge for Ed was just past the point where people could keep saying no, and just below the point where they called security. From what I understand, a lot of his legal tactics were the same.
ESTPs are the most pragmatic of all the types, so the end often justifies the means. My favorite Ed story is the one where he held a big outdoor party on a chilly day. He asked my brother to go to Home Depot and charge six large space heaters. His friends enjoyed the warmth of the space heaters and the party was a great success. The next day, Ed packed up the space heaters in their boxes and had my brother pick them up and return them to Home Depot. My brother says that it’s six years later, and still, if he tries to return anything to Home Depot, even a small bolt, they call the manager. (Notice that he got someone else’s name on a list.)
To be fair, my brother also revealed that he’d been picked up for selling drugs when he was a teenager, and Ed not only got him off, but took him to rehab and turned his life around.
When my sister was married, I refused to go to her wedding because I thought Ed was a weed, and would choke the beauty out of her life. For the most part, that turned out to be true. As a husband he was often absent, cold and indifferent. As a father he was usually harassing, mocking or raging. As a brother-in-law he walked right past us without acknowledging our presence. But to desperate people in the worst crises of their lives, facing the judicial system and possible imprisonment, Ed was the most beautiful wildflower they had ever seen.
It never ceases to amaze me how people (and animals and objects and life itself) can elude my judgments of good or bad. I keep trying to sort them out, but they keep doing things that don’t fit into my categories. But then, as I walked behind the casket and passed the sorrowful faces on Ed’s former clients, I thought, “Maybe that’s good.”
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?
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?
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.
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.