The Cult of Personality

September 25, 2018

by Zadra Rose Ibañez, Director of Operations

Do you remember that song by Living Color? It was about perception, and how we value what we think of as success and achievement, without really understanding everything going on underneath someone’s public persona. 

Sometimes that perception, or others’ expectation of us, can be frustrating. For example, an actor being typecast often complains that they are stifled creatively. Yet every fledging actor wishes they were typecast, because that means you’re known for “something” and will be the person that casting agents think of when they need that trait; essentially, you’re more likely to be a working actor. Similarly you go to a particular restaurant when you want a particular menu item, but unless you’re craving that dish you often don’t think of that restaurant.

Recently, a friend and I were talking about various personality sorters and different ways to categorize yourself.

Keirsey Temperament: E or I? S or N? T or F? J or P?
Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, or Melancholy?
Red, Blue, Yellow, or Green?
What Enneagram # are you?
What’s your zodiac? Chinese horoscope? Native American Totem Animal?

And then, beyond personality, inherent qualities such as what ethnicity are you? What’s your age? Are you right or left-handed, or ambidextrous?  Are you tall or short? Pitta, vata, kapha? Blond, brunette, or redhead?

And preferences: what’s your favorite sports team?  Are you a dog or cat person? Democrat, Republican or Independent?  Would you rather read a book or watch a movie?

So why is this list of characteristics seemingly non-sequitur? Because that’s how personality is. It’s various facets of ourselves. We are not one thing. We are a combination of facts and figures, circumstances and opinions, experiences and dreams; these combinations make us unique individuals.

It’s fun to find similarities between individuals, because this allows us to identify with a group, to be a part of something and not feel alone.  “You’re an Aquarius? So am I!”  “I love that movie/book/hobby/flavor of ice cream.”  We now have a framework for relating, a jumping off point for future conversations.

And often we do this by deciding what we’re NOT.  “I am NOT a fan of snow.”  “I do NOT like to travel.”  “I am NOT comfortable speaking in front of crowds.”

Sometimes, however, this can be polarizing, creating an “Us vs. Them” situation and lead to discrimination, prejudice and alienation of a person or group.

I frequently come across this when discussing temperament. All the Introverts band together against the Extraverts, and each find behaviors about the other group that annoy them or that they “just don’t get.”

But we are stronger together.  I believe there is more value in finding out where those differences are,  seeking places where others are strong that you are weaker in, so their skills and abilities can complement your own, and vice versa.  This synergy creates a space where gaps in what you can accomplish are filled.  The key is to keep an open mind, and try not to pre-judge.  “Tolerance” is not a strong enough word.  “Acceptance” implies a grudging acquiescence.  I say appreciate, embrace, and celebrate our differences.  We are more than the sum of our parts, both individually, and as community.

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