When my kids were high school age, I hosted a writing club for them and their friends. On those Friday afternoons in my living room, surrounded by distinctive and lively young people, type was often on my mind. Let me introduce you to some of the kids in the writing club and the reasons I was thinking about their types…
Dan, ISTJ, was an intelligent and cool-headed person that you sensed would go far. One week, he chose for the writing topic, "An Argumentative Essay." Everyone took that to mean that they should take a position on something and argue it. After they had read all of their papers, however, Dan told them that he had wanted them to take a position and argue it from both sides. We were all surprised and wondered, "Why would anyone do that?" I told the group that we were seeing the thinking mind at work, trying to make decisions based on information that is dispassionate and balanced. After they had rewritten their papers the way Dan suggested, they all said it was eye-opening and even liberating. I said that being able to articulate both sides might make us better at actually changing people’s minds, because people need to feel that their point of view is acknowledged before they will listen to another point of view.
Tim, INTP, was the shyest of the group but smiling and pleasant. He didn't write papers like the other kids, but would pull a scrap of paper out of his pocket and read a short passage he had written down in the ride over, not about the week’s topic, but about anything he had thought of. I worried about that, mostly because the other kids didn't think it was fair. I had type to help me though. I knew that perceiving types are energized by fresh starts and last minute rushes, and intuitives just like to find a unique approach. In jotting down a new idea on the ride over he was moving with his energy. I told him I understood that, and I enjoyed his contributions because they were creative and thought provoking. I made suggestions on how he could make it easier to write a whole paper by first, free-writing on the topic, and seeing if the ideas for a paper emerged from those random thoughts. He never did complete a whole paper though, and I wondered what else I could have done for him. Once again, I had type to help me. Most of the adult Ps I knew had figured out strategies to help them bring things to closure, and were in careers that suited their style of doing things, so I trusted that Tim would work it out eventually.
Chris, ISTP, was a man of action, not words, so his papers would be very short, and usually about some kind of action, like extreme sports. He also loved art, and when the topic was Mark Twain, he wrote about the beautiful illustrations in the Mark Twain novels. He was often in conflict with his SJ parents, however, because of his casual attitude about his studies. When I taught the kids about type, I sent their parents copies of their profiles as well, and it was Chris's parents I was especially hoping to influence. I would have liked to see them relax a bit about their son's SP ways and try to make his lessons more related to the activities he was engaged in. They never mentioned it, though, so I’m not sure how it affected them. Of all the types, I think the SPs suffer the most in our one-size-fits-all method of educating children. It's one thing to know that it happens, but it's very hard to watch it happening in front of you.
Perrin, ISFJ, was the most visually appealing person in the group, well-dressed and gracious. When the kids were asked to write about a superhero they'd like to be, she invented Makeover Girl, who could instantly transform people from frumpy to fashionable. She wasn't shallow, however, and was mature beyond her years in her thoughtfulness of other people. Even in her writing, you could tell that she was thinking about the needs of her audience. She wrote very clearly, and put in lively examples and humor to keep people's attention. Her peers weren't as thoughtful as she was and it hurt her when they didn't express appreciation for her writing, and instead, just got into discussions about anything her writing made them think of. I knew that ISFJs often feel taken for granted, so one week I had the kids write on the topic, "Things I like about the writing of the other people in this group." Perrin got some nice praise that day, and I hoped it would stay with her.
Rachel, INFJ, was a natural observer of personality. She would gently tease the other kids on their peculiar habits, which they weren't aware that anyone noticed. Her writing would often be focused on the talents of the other kids in the group. She once wrote an exciting murder mystery that took place in a shopping mall, with the detective being Perrin, who loved shopping and knew all the secrets of the mall. When I taught the kids about type, I started by telling them that type would help them forgive other people. Rachel looked troubled and said, "But you have to try to change them too, don't you?" I'm also an INFJ, so I recognized her strong belief that troubled relationships can go through “makeovers” and change for the better. I didn't know if I was happy or sad to see someone else with that persistent hope, and all I could say was, "Good luck with that."
Suzanne, ESFP, was the purest heart in the group, the sweetest and most loving. Her parents were SPs as well, so they didn't pressure her too much about academics, and naturally appreciated her achievements in sports and dance. As a family, they were the most active people I have ever met. Her sensing showed up in her writing because she loved details, and could write a long paper out of something as specific as packing a suitcase. When she read her writing, I remembered something I'd seen at a conference on type. Elizabeth Murphy had filmed young people at a table trying to organize a bunch of small objects into categories. The intuitive kids did it quickly and loved telling you about their categories. The sensing kids had a harder time with it. Even when they had made categories, they would still pick up each object in a grouping and talk about it. I could hear Suzanne lovingly handling each object in her writing, and I told her I had never enjoyed details so much as in her writing.
Sara, ENFP, was the bright light of the group, always talking, laughing, or asking people interesting questions and getting excited by their answers. She showed her dominant intuitive side in her writing, because she was usually challenging the status quo, asking why do we do things this way, because it doesn't seem right or fair. That was the biggest difference I noticed about the intuitives in the group. They were the ones who asked, "Why?" They were the ones who were destined, for better or worse, to prod and poke society to move forward. Sara's ideas weren't always compelling though, because young people don’t often have the words they need to describe their dissatisfaction. I tried to help her articulate her concerns, which she appreciated because it made her feel like someone was listening, instead of the usual, "What are you talking about?" or “Let me alone” response that intuitives get.
Paul, ESFJ, was the most naturally suited to the dynamics in a group. He towered over the other kids in height, and had a calm and confident demeanor. He could respond immediately with friendly humor to anything people said, and he just made people feel good about themselves. Everyone liked him, and whether he was writing about why he loved cars or why he hated Shakespeare, his writing always had the group talking and laughing. I told him I hoped he would find a career where he could lead groups most of the time. I never spent a minute worrying about him or trying to help him. Like everyone else in the group, I just sat back and enjoyed him.
When I think about how many times type helped me to be sympathetic towards the kids in the writing club, I don’t know how any teacher or leader can function without it. It’s a relief to know that you usually don’t have to try and change kids, and when you want to help them, it’s nice to know how.