Entries for month: July 2014

Wildflower or Weed?

“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.”



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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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