Who Are You, Really?

Who Are You, Really? is a book by Brian R. Little published by TED.  It has a personality test in it which I decided to take mainly because it was short and designed by psychologists rather than a lifestyle magazine.  It assesses your openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.  I feel like my results were very accurate.

Openness, high; conscientiousness, low; extroversion, low; agreeableness, low; neuroticism, high.

Which – if you read the explanation – turns out to mean something like this:

Highly open people are often creative, and keen on exploring alternatives or starting new things.  Low conscientiousness however means there might be problems sticking to things and finishing them off, and not very good habits around reaching goals and maintaining relationships.  Introverts get tired out by social contact, but often prefer quality over quantity.  Those with low agreeableness are cynical and distrustful of others (and have poor health, like those with low conscientiousness).  The highly neurotic are prone to depression, and vulnerability.  Many artists are highly neurotic which equates to being highly sensitive and socially aware.  Something that, again, contributes to poor health.

I think that this pretty much sums me up.  Which is good – I am a creative person – and bad – I am also (overly) sensitive, prone to depression, and fail to follow through.  I was impressed.  It was a very simple test of 15 questions, and took about five minutes to complete.

About a month ago I took another test to do with personal values.  This was so I could use it for teaching.  It’s a slightly longer test – but only about 10 minutes long – and allows you to map out which values are the most and least important to you.  I came out very strong on self-direction and universalism.  Self-direction is all about independence and creativity and privacy, and universalism is about human rights, social justice and the environment.  In other words, this test was accurate too.  Of the values listed those were certainly the two that felt closest to me although before answering the 30 questions I wouldn’t have necessarily been able to identify them so clearly.

This work is based on research by Shalom Schwartz and has been a useful teaching tool.  I would have to say though that culture does complicate the picture it presents.  The diagram showing all ten values positions suggests that values at opposite edges are often in opposition in society (self-direction is opposite tradition for example).  However, culture can make conflict occur within a values domain.  If you add some adjectives to the word tradition you can see what I mean: Māori Tradition and European Tradition.  This addition of culture creates a different kind of conflict that is not between different values, but between competing versions of the same value.

Of course part of me resists such tests and what they say about me, but then looking at how I score I think that is predictable for someone like me.  A creative person, who is neurotic, and values his self-direction is highly likely to sneer at tests I would say.  After all, I like to think of myself as “different” (although I am cynical enough about even myself to sneer at that too).  The thing is; I’m not different. Whenever there is a reason for me to engage with a professional like a doctor or a psychiatrist I always fit exactly into the exact pattern of typical behaviour of men my age, class and race.  I think one of the many negatives of a culture of individualism is believing yourself to be special and therefore ignoring the wisdom that can be derived from statistics by professionals that might help you.

It only took about two sessions with a therapist before they were pointing out fundamental things about my emotional make up which were both blindingly obvious and that I had never thought of before.  I’m a bunch of jangly nerves, introversion and creativity but to an expert I’m a type.  Probably a very frustrating type given my enthusiasm for trying new things and my poor follow through.

Brian’s TED Talk is very good, and the book is good too (although I’m only up to Chapter Three).  I suppose one thing that is attractive about his speech is that he more or less is me.  His description of being an introvert who acts extroverted at times in order to carry out a project important to him is me exactly.  Most people imagine I must be a bad teacher because I am quiet and shy, but teaching is a different thing.  When I teach I seem like an extrovert.  Brian hides in bathrooms at conferences which is something I do; or at least get out and go for a walk and read a book.

Brian is keen that people are seen both as by their traits and as individuals, which is something I appreciate.  I’ve learned the value of seeing yourself on a meta level.  The last time I was in an argument I realised that I was getting so angry because the dispute was attacking my self-direction.  Last week I felt myself becoming furious with a Year 9 who showed no capacity to care for people in the abstract (underpaid workers in a garment factory for example).  Thinking back on that now the reason I felt angry was because I have such a high stake in universalism.  Knowing this about myself is useful; especially if I can think about the values of the person I am in argument with.

Similarly, I have much more empathy for extroverts now.  I used to think they were intrusive and trying to embarrass me with all their egging on to join in and hang out.  They’re not.  They’re often trying to be nice, but joining a group of strangers and making chit chat is right at the top of my list of things I hate to do.  Hate.  In any kind of free flowing social situation I would rather be somewhere else.

Which leads to me think about my new work environment.  It is a school with large open plan shared spaces, and teacher offices that have no privacy and open on to those large open plan shared spaces.  This is a disaster for me.  A horrible environment for an introverted, neurotic like me.  It will suit some people though.  I realise that now.  The difficulty though is that it is built for only some traits and not others, and I feel like I’m trapped at a party of strangers that I can’t leave.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō