Appreciative Approach to Development part 1: Personality is a Metaphor

World We Imagine

Your ways of viewing the world are so habitual and ingrained, that you no longer perceive or discern how what you experience in life is merely a mirror of how you construe reality. You make the mistake therefore of believing that your reality is objective rather than constructed by you through the editorial choices you make in narrating your inner commentary and through your imagination.

The world that you experience is therefore also a world that you create with our imagination. Our minds find ways of representing the world. Each person’s way is different, coloured your assumptions, values, and upbringing. Much of your understanding also comes from shared imaginative creations that have explanatory value or yield truth. This is as true of psychology as it is of literature, the usual realm of myth and metaphor. When a psychologist builds or adds to a system, he is making myths and metaphors. When a psychologist tells stories, he is offering truth if the stories make the hearer understand what was unclear before.

In my mind, psychology is a collection of different myths, metaphors, and stories that people have used to make their way through the mind’s world and the exterior world. I happily appropriate from the common stock of stories and metaphors to supply psychological understanding to myself and to my readers. Since some of these metaphors are reductive and concrete, while others are surrealistic or caricaturish, I—we—must take them at our peril.

Personality is a Metaphor

Personality rather than being a physical or objective thing is merely a metaphor or theoretical construct. Personality is what particular systems, typologies or approaches to personality describe in their attempt to classify, make sense-of, classify and simplify the infinite emergent ways of being human.

People do this in order to make the world appear more consistent, predictable and therefore manageable. It makes perfect sense to do this, because it is necessary to constantly be making sense of and predicting the behaviours of others. There is clearly an economy in being able to do this with reference to a comprehensive system or map like the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs.

What gives it apparent consistency is that people tend to view themselves and others in terms of dominant themes or characteristics. Once these dominant themes or characteristics are given some typological label, the individual and others develop a bias for consistency in that they notice and consider real what fits with the type and ignore, miss or deny what appears contradictory.

When using a classification system you only need to identify a limited number of dominant personality characteristics in order to make appropriate predictions or judgments. Furthermore it is only necessary to focus on the particular constructs germane to what one is trying to account for in order to make the necessary assessments.  It is not redundant to know for example whether a manual labourer is empathic or an artist is rational, or a hermit is narcissistic as well as being a loner.

In the economy of quick judgments and only reasonable, adequate assumptions, there is much that you miss about the richness, nuance and potential in yourself and others.

Assuming that every person has access to every way of being possible in human experience, defining who and what someone is, and by extension limiting their potential for showing ways of being that fall outside of those descriptions, becomes a real risk.

People all have a natural tendency towards economy in their expenditure of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual effort. This manifests as an inner-inertia, which is a desire to conserve energy and avoid discomfort by maintaining ones present state.

This inner-inertia manifests on the cognitive level in the form of stereotyping, prejudice or superficial sloppy thought and just “not getting it” despite having the intelligence to do so. It shows on a behavioural level equally for example in bullying, procrastination and obsessive frenetic activity. It shows emotionally in obstinacy, being-unyielding, withholding, and lack of empathy. All of these are examples of what could stand in your way of being present to others.

Theories often provide a justification and alibi for not being fully present to others. By relating to categories and theories instead of to unique, complex and mysterious individuals you avoid truly encountering others and discovering their enormous potential and resources. This limits how much you can benefit from relationships as well as how much people can benefit from encountering you.


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