Labels - Part 2 (INFP vs. ESTJ)

              I was chatting with an old friend this morning over a cup of coffee. It was one of those wonderful “accidents” that God is so generous to arrange. My young friend, who I met when he was a college student, happened to be passing through town.

            He is now a college minister and I am so very proud of him. Looking back on our relationship, I marveled at the growth that had taken place in his life. A lot of it has to do of course with the natural process of maturing. And, the fact that he married a lovely, bright, and talented woman has not at all hurt his drift toward refinement. She is definitely sanding off the rough edges of her husband as is the common task of all lovely, bright and talented wives - which describes pretty much all wives by my book! (Shameless pandering, but it increases Blog-traffic). Their job is to “de-Neanderthal-ize” us nose-picking, knuckle-draggers.

            As we chatted, he told me that a part of his leadership training that had been especially meaningful to him had been to work through the Myers-Briggs profiling test. This test is commonly used in the business world to help people better understand one another and to build group dynamics...allegedly. (More on that in a moment). I use this tool in pre-marital counseling quite often, thus, I had already formed a few educated guesses in regard to my friend's profile. Allow me a moment to recount a few memories…

            When I first met my friend, he was a football player at Fort Lewis College. When we would get together to chat, he almost always had some topic, or someone, with which he was taking “serious” issue. Being an ESFJ (the J standing for Judging), he excelled nicely with the “J” portion. In other words, he suffered no fools, and the world, in his mind, was chock-full of them.

            I remember many times that I sat and listened, slowly drumming my fingers on the table, wishing I had brought along just a fragment of duct-tape. Two or three inches of the magic adhesive would have come in quite handy. But, I did what my profile (INFP) does rather easily – I listened and sympathized. My “P” (perceiving) as opposed to his “J” (judging) offered him another way of looking at the people or the situations. I am not at all saying that my personality type is better than his. I, in fact, often put a lot of trust in people – especially in their unrealized potential – while overlooking the present realities of a person’s journey. That has bitten me on more than one occasion. The disappointment always circled back to my projection of what a person could be that was frequently at odds with who they really were. It is both an encouraging gift to many people and yet at times was wrought with wrongful expectations on my part. It took me awhile to figure this out.

            What is my point? I am speaking here again, as I did in the previous blog, about labels. I hate them. I really do. Yet we seem to be incurably driven to find a place in our minds to categorize people: He is a banker; She is an accountant; He is a Baptist; She is a Homemaker; He is a jerk; She is a flake. On and on the labels go. We unfairly summarize an entire person’s life with meager amounts of data and impressions gathered by fleeting moments in their presence.

            It is terribly unfair but also unsurprising.  Psychologists tell us that our brains need a way to resolve what they call cognitive dissonance in our minds; thus, we merrily and unconsciously go about cataloguing people as: friend, enemy, weirdo, attractive, not so much, etc.  When I was in my doctoral studies, I had a professor describe cognitive dissonance as a bunch of untethered strings floating around in our brain. Categorizing people and subjects help tie these thoughts down and bring us a measure of peace.

            It is right here where we can go off the tracks and where we can find help with the Christian celebration of the word “grace”.  The word in the Greek: “charis”, when tracked down to its effectual usage in the Scriptures, means: “God’s empowering presence.”  I have heard other definitions, but this one seems to work in all circumstances, so it is the one I prefer.  Grace is God’s active goodness, influence and participation in our lives. Grace is God becoming a man, a human being, and experiencing the dust and disappointment of earth. Grace is the effort given to understanding every temptation and shortcoming and weakness common to the human race and enduring it all. Grace is placing oneself on a cross as a substitute to take the blame for all of our naughtiness. And grace is seeing within each human being the potential of what they might someday be. Yes, I like to fancy that God is a bit of an INFP Himself! But, that would be overly flattering to my profile type and it is simply less than honest. He is all of the personality types noted by the Myer-Briggs profilers and much more. His character is one of: holiness, mercy, kindness, matchless beauty, mystery, self-revelation, justice and judgment, downy-soft tenderness, transcendence and imminence.  Try labeling God into one category and you will come away with a tiny, manageable God – but you will be missing the real thing. In a sense, Deity defies labels.

            And here is the big point I wish to make…grace, when freely received, never allows us to remain the same. It is transforming. It is metamorphosing. But there is more…grace freely received is almost meant to be freely given. It is a pass-through gift. It is a river, not a reservoir.

            Here is where we come to the limitations of personality profiling. I once worked through a Myers-Brigg facilitator to help me resolve some conflicts with a few business partners. Actually, I was in the middle of the conflict – a tormented peace-maker of sorts. The Myers-Briggs actually mapped it out quite accurately. One guy was in the upper right hand corner, a driver, and a controller. The other partner was down in the lower left corner – a very easy-going, “collie” type. My personality was in between the two. As our facilitator shared with us our personality types, the controlling fellow lit up and got excited. He said, “Yes, this is me!”  And…then he used his newfound knowledge to define and defend his nastiness to the other guy. “This is me! This is me! This is me!  You have to adjust to it because…This is me!”  As retreats went, it wasn’t one of my more successful ones. He used his personality type as sledge-hammer.

            Grace never leaves us that way. Grace would never attempt to bend the entire universe to one’s own will and personality. Rather, grace fuels a love of others that cures such things – even if very slowly. Grace is always about the business of changing us from the inside out into something more beautiful. And, as it changes us, it makes us extremely sympathetic to other people’s struggles. We become the change we would hope for in other people.      

            Thanks for hanging out and completing this marathon of a blog. May God’s grace be yours in abundance…


© Patrick Crossing 2015