Category Archives: Personality

Most important: Intelligence, Kindness, or Humor?

I used to think intelligence was the most important trait. Later in life, I decided kindness was.
After this election year debacle, I suspect both are equally important and that a sense of humor probably is way up there with them, because it can free us to see ourselves honestly. Age doesn’t automatically bring wisdom, but it often brings humor which can be the beginning of self-honesty.  And once that happens, you empty your pockets of all those stones you are tempted to throw at others. And that’s the beginning of wisdom.
Kiddos! We ALL see through the glass of our limited perception darkly (imperfectly)! Quick! Get rid of the temptation of those stones before they come back to haunt you.

How Free is our Free Will?

A seriously spooky, but incredibly affirming and helpful tool for gaining a better understanding of both ourselves and others is the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI).
I came across the MBTI several decades ago. My first response to my results from taking it was, “How could anyone possibly know all those things about me?” I hadn’t even recognized some of them myself until I read the MBTI’s description. It was amazing, but almost scary, how well its description fit.
It gave me greater self-awareness and both an appreciation of my strengths and an understanding of why some aspects of life were much less appealing and even difficult for me. And gradually, as I moved past learning about just my own personality, it explained the challenges in my relationships with people having a different set of both strengths and other aspects of personality that were less natural for them.
That was thirty-two years ago and I am still being helped by this tool in my relationships, particularly with my husband, whose strengths and subsequent ways of being in the world are the exact opposite of mine. In fact, understanding about personality differences  has probably been one of the most significant reasons our marriage has lasted and grown stronger over almost fifty-eight years.
Different personality types focus on different aspects and therefore actually “see” the concrete world differently. The information we take in on any given day, even in the same environment, will vary drastically. Also how we respond to it, personally or theoretically, emotionally or logically, will differ greatly.  Even our dominant focus, whether inward most of the time and only outward on a few people or locations close to us versus mostly outwardly and on the larger world including the future of the whole planet, will also be extremely different. An example: My husband will fight to save a beautiful old tree on a specific site, but isn’t particularly concerned about the rain forests in distant countries.
Personality differences have implications for every aspect of life, not just relationships. I became a consultant on the MBTI and gave workshops on its significance for Marriage Relationships, for Teaching/Learning Style Differences, for the Variety of Approaches to Spirituality, and even for Corporate Management Styles and Employee Responses.
At seventy-nine, I haven’t been professionally active in this for some years, but the MBTI seems to have stood the test of time in both the educational and professional worlds. And I am still discovering areas where it sheds light on our personal human journeys. I am not going to attempt to teach about type. The Association for Personality Type is the professional site for learning about type. However, there are many people writing about type on the internet without sufficient expertise in the subject, so take care in what you accept that isn’t backed up with some credentials.
One of the issues that the reality of inborn personality differences raises questions about, but also sheds some light on, is what degree of free will we have. I’ll begin to explore that in my next post.

A Spot Unpainted

There’s an artist that always left one small spot unpainted. The idea was that nothing is perfect. There was a time in the total silence of a new fallen snow that I stood alone on a hill at night looking at millions of stars. I felt incredibly tiny and insignificant in the face of such grandeur and enormity. I could literally feel myself shrinking. But suddenly I felt at one with all of it. Like a tiny anonymous dot that fills in an empty space in a painting, I not only had a right to be here, but was needed for completion, to make the universe whole. We are all tiny, but crucial parts of the whole. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Death and resurrection, sorrow and joy, mourning and dancing, loss and hope, the reality that all of these seeming opposites are inseparable is the paradox at the heart of life. The cross as the symbol of Christianity symbolizes this truth. Buddhism says the same thing in slightly different language. There is truth and wisdom in Buddhism, but with Christ there is also the dimension of relationship. And relationship takes you where you are and walks hand in hand with you to where you are being called. I experience the beauty and power and truth of God in the universe. But God is way bigger and more complex than I can comprehend. I sense the presence of God within me some of the time, but other times I need that human expression of the love and power of God, Jesus, to relate to, to show me how to love, and to hold my hand when I crumble under pressure

There are goodies and baddies to everything in life. If you are a mom with another career, you are beset by guilt over whether you have not been a good enough mother, particularly when your children as adults turn out to be human with all that goes with that. If you are a stay at home mom focused predominantly on your children, when inevitably they turn out to be human as adults, if you have not let go of them as your reason for being, their human problems and mistakes become about your ego, not their or anyone else’s pain. Though not true for everyone, it took me until midlife to recognize how very flawed I was and how silly it was to expect my progeny, no matter how bright, funny, talented and kind, to be perfect. None of us gets or passes down all the good genes. None of us, even with what we consider our best traits, gets it perfectly right for raising another human being with a different mix of genes and traits. That is one of the less appealing realities of life. Luckily, none of us is finished yet. And I actually think the younger generations are facing some of these unpleasant realities earlier in their lives than we did in ours. So, in spite of the discouraging state of humanity, there are signs that we are still able to evolve once we realize we need to.

I used to get my feelings hurt not only easily, but deeply enough that I cut people out of my life. It came from an unrecognized need to be perfect and anything said that implied to me that I wasn’t, devastated me. Being able to see the door because of being 79 helps a lot. I figure at this point the only one I have to worry about is God and He knew I was a difficult person before I did. It also helps, when people who tend to be insensitive hurt me, to look for something redeeming about them. I’ve found this way I can care and even make sacrifices for people I find difficult to like (including myself). 

Henri Nouwen in his A Spirituality of Living writes that possibly the main human suffering comes from loneliness.  So, it is important to develop our capacity for solitude where we can experience the love of God.  Other wise we are going to expect someone to give us that perfect, unconditional love.  They cannot.  Often this means a painfully temporary quality in our relationships.  Instead of long lasting involvements that grow stronger over time, we may experience separations and growing despair about finding someone who can meet our deepest desires for intimacy. Developing the capacity for solitude is the groundwork for creating community and becoming capable of commitment in our relationships.

 

Love is a Special Olympics Race

What is love? Do we love “because?” When the one we love is broken is that tender protective nurturing healing love that we give them how we need to love ourselves? We all come into this world imperfect, vulnerable, unfinished, incomplete, with natural talents for some things and none for others, and all too soon battered and broken by life. When we can love that inner incomplete, never going to be perfect, only called to play the hand we were dealt (never a royal straight flush), scarred and broken person that we all really are, the healing begins.  But it’s healing, not perfecting.
Interestingly, the only children I’ve seen that appear to know they are loved unconditionally are at least some of those with disabilities. At a Special Olympics I attended, a child fell down in a race and the others all turned around and went back to help him get up and complete the race. Perhaps we need to recognize that life is a Special Olympics and that what is important is that we all finish the race, not who wins it.

Jesus Loves Me, but I Suspect that I’m Not Playing with a Full Deck.

Many years ago after a long and very disappointing search for spiritual meaning in most of the major Christian denominations and even some other world religions, I was encouraged to say a prayer, “Jesus Christ, if you are who you claim to be, I want you to be my Savior and Lord.” This was not connected to any denomination. I didn’t expect anything, because as I explained to the woman challenging me, I didn’t believe in God and I thought Jesus was a very good man, but a delusional idealist that got himself killed. At first, nothing happened and I felt pretty safe that nothing would.

Then suddenly I simply knew with my whole self – mind, heart and spirit, that I was loved unconditionally by God, even though for some years like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, I had opposed anything Christian in the public sector. Suddenly, things from Scripture, which in my search I had read from beginning to end, came together with things I had learned when recently getting a degree in Psychology. And I was filled to overflowing with total mind blowing joy.

That was forty-seven years ago and my journey has since been centered on the person of Jesus as the Love of God fleshed out so we can understand it, experience it, and learn to love like that. I have found that there are some people in all the denominations who “get” that. But all the denominations have pieces of the puzzle that they emphasize to the detriment of the whole picture. Most of humanity including nominal Christians- have simply missed the point of Jesus Christ. To me the greatest tragedy I see in today’s broken world is that Christians are turning people off before they can discover the Love of God in Jesus.

To discover that Love of God in Jesus we pretty much need to put everything we were taught or heard on hold in a mental file, and spend some serious time getting to know the man Jesus personally, discovering in the New Testament that he grew and changed in how he understood his faith and even his ministry over and over until He “got” it and was God’s perfect expression of Love that we could know in the flesh. Then we too will be able to live that process of becoming Love…..never perfectly……sometimes falling under the weight of our human imperfections, but mostly inching closer by seeking grace. It will not be exactly the same or on the same schedule as anyone else, because we are all different. We weren’t all dealt the same hand. Frankly, I think I am one of those who isn’t playing with a full deck.

But God, and only God, knows what we each have to work with, so only God knows how well we are playing the hand we were dealt. We can’t even judge ourselves, never- the-less anyone else. I also learned in my search that the mystics (those that have encountered the Love of God powerfully and personally) of all the world’s religions say pretty much the same thing, “We are all one and whatever we do to anyone, we do to all.”  Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” You would think that we would be a lot more careful how we treat people, even those we may unfortunately be inclined to consider outsiders or sinners.

I can’t help but wanting to share the Love of God I have experienced through Jesus.  But I have learned the hard way, that trying to force our own particular Christian beliefs on those who have not experienced the Love of God, is the mostly likely way to prevent them from becoming open to that experience of Love. We can let the world know what we believe. We can teach our children what we believe. But when we force those beliefs on those who have not experienced the Love of God, we risk being responsible for closing their minds and hearts to God.

I have seen over these forty-seven years that each person’s journey is different and though saying that particular prayer has validity and meaning, it doesn’t always have an immediate impact like it did for me at that point in time in my search. Each person is different and each person’s timing on their journey is different. I think some of us are like the prodigal and some of us are like the older brother. I have seen truly kind and good church going people who believe in the Love of God, but only finally experience it with that explosive joy through a personal encounter with Jesus in their seventies or even later.

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” It’s a lifelong personal journey of growing and learning and the high points come at different times and in different ways for all of us. Perseverance is the key.

Adolescent Sex Is as Addictive as Crack Cocaine

Adolescent sex is as addictive as meth, crack cocaine, alcohol, or nicotine. Once teens start having sex it’s like two right handed children playing left handed catch with a live hand grenade. I was a “wait ‘til you marry” person, not because I was a “goodie two shoes,” but because I was a devout coward. In my day there were immediate unpleasant consequences for getting pregnant outside marriage And we weren’t surrounded by people selling sex as the only reason for living.                                                                                                                         But today’s world is simply saturated with sex in almost every ad, book, movie, and on line site. The culture no longer supports abstinence or even monogamy. No matter how good, articulate, loving, and supportive we are as parents……it is like sending our children into war with water guns. Kids have way too much freedom at very young ages, both the opportunities and stress of unchaperoned situations, and less immediate consequences than older generations had. And like all adolescents they live in the moment, oblivious to any life long consequences. Or they are like most of us are about death, not believing pregnancy or disease will happen to them.
Short of locking them up from 12 to 21, I have no simple solutions. I believe and talk about a loving forgiving God, but what I probably never stress enough is that neither love nor forgiveness protects us from the consequences of our bad choices. Without obvious consequences we will just keep making them. That’s not what a loving God wants or allows for us.
In our teens most of us aren’t yet sure who we are or if who we are will turn out to be sufficient in this world. Sex isn’t just amazing pleasure, it makes us feel like a hero or princess…..we are #1 with someone. We are not alone anymore as we do the work of separating who we are from who our parents are.
We don’t realize that need is not love and that infatuation doesn’t last. Learning to love takes years of learning to make unselfish choices. When we make our lives incredibly harder by creating another life that we aren’t yet equipped to nurture, finance, and protect by putting their many needs before our wants, our infatuation seldom has a chance to become love. The overload of challenges may well freeze us in our immaturity and lock us into remaining overwhelmed immature children making bad choices for much of our lives. So many lives are stunted from choices made in the teen years.
And for most youth the danger of disease has no more personal reality than death.   No matter what medicines are available, the consequences of STD’s and even the side effects of medicines for them can permanently diminish the joy of sex and complicate relationships. Today even many adults assume there’s a medicine for everything. But the reality is that as soon as we find a cure for one disease, another disease appears.  The sad reality is that often the victims are youth who plan to abstain from sex until old enough to make a life commitment, but are overwhelmed by cultural circumstances.
Many people of all ages assume a fetus is not a person and if we are the type of person who doesn’t naturally consider possibilities, we may not worry much about emotional repercussions from having an abortion. But in my 78 years of life, I have witnessed the changes in personality traits that people experience as they enter different stages of life. I am convinced that even those that do not feel guilt, worry, sadness or even curiosity about their unborn child at the time of making the choice for abortion, will eventually have to deal with those.
I think society has pretty much obliterated fear of hell. What no one warns is that bad choices can turn our life here into a hell,.
Parents, tell it like it is. They may not hear you, but at least you will have tried.

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I Miss the Possibility of Her

My friend of over forty years, Norma Parham, died last week. She was a very interesting, talented and paradoxical woman. I miss having her to call and laugh with about aging. For the last year she had been a resident in a nursing home in rural Hickman County, where she played the piano for the residents and had just bought a ukelele to learn to play. She was the only Republican I ever knew that subscribed to Communist magazines in the 1970’s. They were delivered in brown paper wrappers. She grew up Church of Christ and converted to Catholicism. Though getting a Masters in Religious Ed made her a skeptic about taking scripture literally, she loved the psalms. Her mind was analytical, but at heart she was a mystic. She wrote poetry, painted, sang, and could tear up a piano playing everything from Boogie Woogie to Beethoven. She loved shooting my Pollyanna ideas down. She taught for 36 years. When I started teaching, she advised me to not smile for the first six weeks. When asked what it was like in her first years of teaching with several grades in one classroom, she said it was like herding cats. She spent summers either traveling or studying abroad on her own. She grew up in Hickman County in the country without indoor plumbing and with heat from a wood burning stove. After teaching about thirty years, she had a rather cynical opinion on the direction education was headed. So, when the new principal, a hardly dry behind the ears coach, called a meeting for all the teachers, she sat in the back row reading a newspaper. After a while the young new principal suggested that she might learn something if she stopped reading and listened. She carefully folded the paper and took out a pencil and pad and took notes for the rest of his talk. When it was over, she gave him her “notes,” suggesting that he might find them informative. The paper was completely filled with his grammar mistakes and her corrections. She was one of a kind. I miss the possibility of her.

Application Strategy: Flash the Chaplain?(Reblog)

I used to think I had some sort of jinx about clothes, but I finally figured out that God just created me for comic relief.

I’ve already told about slipping on my strappy little high heels and bumping down the stairs on my tush when attempting to make a grand entrance wearing a new sexy and sophisticated black cocktail dress for a college date.

Another time I was wearing my more generously endowed debutante cousin’s hand me down evening gown. It was strapless with a lovely flowing soft chiffon skirt with a slight train. I felt like a princess. As I stepped forward to meet my date’s parents in the receiving line, he accidentally stood on the train. I almost made my own debut when I went forward and the dress did not.

In high school I was dating a very nice boy pretty steadily, but out of the blue, he asked another girl to a party at my best friend’s house. I was crushed. Particularly, since the other girl looked so much like me, we could have been sisters. Another boy invited me to the party, but he was a bit of a dork. So, mother took pity on me and let me spend more than we could afford on a wonderful dress for the party. I arrived at the party confident that my new dress would make me look prettier than the other girl.
I don’t know which of us was more stunned when we saw each other…….both of us were wearing the exact same dress. It struck me as funny. I think I made some comment like, “Which twin has the Toni?” But she not only didn’t laugh, she struggled all evening to always be in a different room. Humor won however. My boyfriend asked me to officially go steady the next week.

The clothes jinx tradition continued into my early forties. My husband had started a new business in what turned out to be a recession while we had three children in college, so money was tight. I was applying for a much needed civil service job as an Associate Director of Religious Education for the Chaplains’ Division on a nearby Army Post. I had recently been given several very smart hand me down dresses by my sister-in-law. I chose a tailored A-Line dark blue dress with a high neck and a zipper down the front. I combined it with a camel jacket and matching camel and dark blue colored neck scarf. I felt very chic.

I had to go through several interviews, first with the civilian Post Director of Religious Education, then the head Chaplain for the post, and finally the head Chaplain of my denomination. I made it through the first two feeling pretty comfortable. But, I could tell that the last Chaplain, an old time Catholic priest, had some reservations about working with a lay woman with the credentials required for the civil service job instead of a docile volunteer or nun. I would be working directly for him, but in a secure Civil Service position. I did my best Southern Lady imitation trying to come over as non-threatening. It seemed to go well and I was told to go get some lunch and come back in an hour after all three of my potential bosses had conferred.

As I went out the office door into the January cold, I felt a freezing blast on my chest that took my breath away. I looked down and realized that the zipper that ran from my neck to my waist had broken and pulled apart totally exposing my bra and upper torso. I hastily pulled my jacket closed and ran for my car. In the nearest McDonald’s, I scrounged in my purse and found one safety pin. My jacket had only two low buttons, so I used my safety pin at bra level and arranged my scarf to cover the rest of the gap. By the time I managed to get decent, it was time to return and learn my fate. Nervous and self-conscious, sneaking peeks at my chest, I struggled to sound delighted that I had been accepted for the job and restrain the overwhelming urge to bolt out the door.

I never knew when the zipper had come apart or whether anyone else had noticed, but later when I got to know the very Italian Chaplain, I always wondered if flashing him got me the job.

Well, according to Paul, “Everything works for good for those that love the Lord.”

Grace for a Bottomless Pit of Needs and Wants

“Simply realize who is hidden within you.” –osho
“Story telling has always been at the heart of being human because it serves some of our most basic needs: passing along our traditions, confessing failings, healing wounds, engendering hope, strengthening our sense of community. …………….when our discourse becomes more abstract, the less connected we feel.” Parker J. Palmer (These are quotes from the blog: makebelieveboutique.com)
They really hit me where I live. Not very many people relate to my writing because I tell, instead of show. I’m a theory person in that I explore the world through concepts, connections and possibilities.
But my responses to daily experiences come straight from my emotions. That makes me feel very vulnerable, so I stay focused on the outside world of theories as much as I can.
I have many “God” experience stories that are beyond statistical coincidence. But most of them came out of my struggle with repeated failures to love, because of being a bottomless pit of needs and wants. Needy people are not people who are able to love unconditionally. We may do a lot for others, but it is at least partly, if not mostly, out of our need for constant confirmation that we are worthwhile people.
My favorite autobiographical spiritual writer is Anne Lamott, because she too is a needy person who has often messed up big time because of it, but has found the grace to be open about her flawed humanity through her ongoing experiences of God and His love.
To be honest, I’m not sure I really want that kind of courage enough to ask God for that grace. But I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with where I am, so like it or not, that may be where God is calling me.

Inch Worms on the Plateau of Realism

I feel very sure just about everyone has blind spots or crazy spots in their personality. They come with the territory of being a human. I think they come with everyone’s DNA, but often, if not always, are intensified by experiences or lack of experiences in our impressionable youth.

One of my particular personality type’s blind spots is idealism, which is not bad if balanced with enough common sense. But unfortunately that seems to come to some of us very late in life. So, we develop survival mechanisms to minimize the pain of constant disappointment and frustration with the world, including with ourselves.

Some of us pick an idealistic goal in a particular area and simply focus on it with total tunnel vision while pouring all our energies into it. Unfortunately, eventually most of us either burn out or catch on that we can only inch toward ideals in this flawed and very unfinished world.

Others of us latch on pretty early to the pleasure principle….pleasures block pain…..so we eat, drink and make out with Mary or Harry. Eventually this either kills us, destroys our relationships or gets us run out of town, so we too are challenged to face the pitiful little realities of human existence.

So down deep many of us fear that what is actually driving us is congenital insanity. Naturally, we’d rather cling to an addiction, which we assure ourselves is either a virtue or else something that we could always get over, than face our fear that we are crazy. Because being crazy might not be something we are able to do anything about. Maybe all the world’s pills and all the world’s doctors couldn’t put our tiny cracked selves together again.

If we are lucky enough (or blessed) to find a source of love –  just as we are, we  can become able to bear the pain of disillusionment about ourselves and thus the rest of the world. Then most of us, after settling only temporarily in the valley of cynicism, will find our way to a reasonably satisfying existence as inch worms on the plateau of realism.