Being a fairly introspective person, I’ve always thought I had a pretty good grasp of myself, and given that myself is pragmatic, logical, imaginative, flexible, dependable and at least relatively articulate, I had a hard time understanding why I didn’t make perfect sense to everyone else.
Part of it may boil down to raw statistics. If you give any credence to the Myers-Briggs school of personality classification, which I have been looking into recently after testing myself again, I have an uncommon personality, particularly rare in females: Introverted/ iNtuitive/ Thinking/ Judging (INTJ). Maybe this helps explain why, as a fellow female INTJ comments, “I’d found the world of females so alien for so many years.”
These personality types, according to my research, “value intelligence, knowledge, and competence, and typically have high standards in these regards, which they continuously strive to fulfill. To a somewhat lesser extent, they have similar expectations of others… INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. However, their primary interest is not understanding a concept, but rather applying that concept in a useful way. Unlike the INTP, they do not follow an idea as far as they possibly can, seeking only to understand it fully.”
I like ideas very much, but theoretical people may annoy me insomuch as they cannot take immediate action to apply their ideas to their own lives. It is easy for me to spot inconsistency in ideas and actions, or inconsistency between two ideas. I want the world to make sense. Hypocrisy does not make sense. So, for example, if you, as an introvert, dislike the fact that I, as an introvert, don’t sufficiently cater to your silence, I will look at you as if you are insane. Or if you do something to me that you would not want done to you, I will look at you as if you are insane. Or if you accuse me of accusing you, I will look at you like you are insane. Because, honestly? That is insane. Hypocrisy is amusing (such ripe fodder for satire) because at its core it’s anti-matter; a joke against itself.
This line of thinking, of course, has been described as arrogance or bitchiness on my part more than once: apparently it is arrogant to point out that the emperor has no clothes, even to defend the practice of not accepting fashion tips from him. But it generally isn’t arrogance so much as bewilderment. Conversely, I have also been described as too cold, which is consistent with this personality type, and which I also thought was unfair and inaccurate, since I care deeply about people, in general and in specific:
“At times, INTJs will seem cold, reserved, and unresponsive, while in fact they are almost hypersensitive to signals of rejection from those for whom they care. In social situations, INTJs may neglect to observe small rituals designed to put others at their ease. For example, INTJs may communicate that time is wasted if used for idle dialogue. In their interpersonal relationships, INTJs are usually better in a working situation than in recreational situations. They do not enjoy physical contact except with a chosen few.”
Odd; I am good at networking — charming, even, dare I say, though you may not believe me — if I’m getting paid for it, but can’t bring myself to do it otherwise. And physical contact is a weird game best avoided most of the time. Another thing on relating to the world: these people are described as possessing “an unusual independence of mind, freeing [them] from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake.” This is not because they hate authority, convention or sentiment. It is because they go with what makes sense. If something doesn’t, it gets tossed out. On to plan B. Speaking of which, they are highly efficient and very good at contingency planning.
How very strange that I am thus described in terms of theory when so many, even some of those closest to me, have found my way so mysterious. And mysteriously mysterious to my mind, for I have always been honest with my likes and dislikes and my desire for sense.
As a child, I was reserved, but almost morbidly sensitive; creative, but consistent, and I was always willing to delay my own gratification. I was a good kid and generally far more mild-mannered than my siblings, but I had a stubborn streak and would not back down if I thought I was in the right, even for something as ridiculous as, at the age of 3, thinking I should be able to decide whether I would brush my teeth or not. I lost that one, but it took about ten spankings after ten scenes of defiance. I was 5 when I came to my first memorable systematic realization about the world: sitting on my father’s desk, it occurred to me that life is made up of choices between good and bad and all life required was to always do the good thing.
If someone touched me I had a tendency to flinch, although I was always planting affectionate kisses on the foreheads of my little brothers. I was logical and quickly found out what worked and what didn’t. I always took shortcuts in math. I would play games with myself where I would see if I could connect one thing to an unrelated thing. I became convinced that there were patterns everywhere, connections everywhere, and if I thought long enough about something I should be able to figure it out.
Even my appreciation of and approach to my current job fits into the classic INTJ description. I plan the content of a magazine; I approach each issue a bit loosely, drawing the loop of the end idea tighter until it comes together. I juggle ideas, words, format, grammar, ESL constraints, theme, space, graphics, personalities. I’m always contingency planning without even realizing that’s what I’m doing, and somehow I work less and am less stressed out than my predecessor, by all accounts. I don’t know if this would translate to a bigger publication or not; I like that my job is fairly laid-back, but I also like the times when it’s a bit more hectic, as long as the project is something interesting. I am known for efficiency elsewhere: being able to live on a shoestring, and for getting excellent grades with minimal study.
I want to nudge the world towards order, but if nobody’s around to appreciate dinner, I don’t make dinner. If nobody else cares that the house is a mess, I don’t care so much either. This is efficiency talking, not as some have said, a pure lack of motivation — if I have a reason, I will prepare things painstakingly, because I take pride in providing a thing of beauty to an appreciative eye. But I won’t make dinner merely because it’s tradition to sit down and eat a hot meal at 6 p.m. It might not even occur to me that this is possible in a reasonable world.
Interpersonally, if you say something to me, I expect that it is so. If you say you’re OK with something, I assume you won’t mind if I act on it, even if you tell me you’re OK with being hit in the face. I expect that what you promise will be so, unless you also say: if this happens, we will go with plan B. I am fine with unresolved situations, but I want to be able to plan for contingencies. I can’t do that if you say “A therefore A” and then unexpectedly go with N. I am laid-back normally and may spend a long time gathering data, but in the end I need a plan of action (or two or three). If you just don’t know, that’s fine. But I’ve got some ideas. Let’s get to a solution together as fast as possible so we don’t waste time in disharmony.
Habit-wise, I don’t smoke or drink much or consume much unhealthy food because, for the most part, it’s so inefficient. I don’t tan for the same reason. What an inefficient thing to do to your body, which you need your whole life. I’m not really that obsessive about health, though, and exercise only semi-regularly. When I do, I prefer sprints to distance running, road biking to somewhere to mountain biking to nowhere, and something like flow yoga or dancing to just about everything. In an hour, you can work on full-body strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and even a bit of cardio potentially. And you can relax. What could possibly be more efficient?
However, given my penchant for restraint, either paradoxically or correlationally, I am intoxicated by the pleasures of sense, of movement, of vision and music and touch and texture and the exotic. I am an ascetic aesthetic. The best memories of my life are not the wrangling of a problem, they involve the smell of the spiced air in the French Riviera, the slow spin of the Argentine tango, ice wine on the lips of a beloved, the best-savored meals, the best-savored sunsets, the sharpest mornings, the ache of being alive.
The funny thing is I tend to use the time gained by being efficient elsewhere by staring into space and thinking about the patterns of the world, which is not especially efficient. So perhaps my efficiency is borne primarily of laziness.
It’s true. I’m a phlegmatic more than a choleric and I want peace far more than I want control. But as most phlegmatics don’t act as much like cholerics as I do, people misunderstand me.