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Writer's Block: Taking It Personally

Have you ever taken a personality test like the Myers-Briggs or Enneagram? If so, did you agree with the results? And what was your type?

I did. The results were a little odd though, I don't recall the exact results were because they weren't important to me. I found the testing had some serious problems I've run into with other tests, even some regular quizlets. Many times my response to the choices offered just was not available and all the choices were equally wrong. Once again it rubbed in deep how culturally far I am from the Western or American norm.

Most personality testing rests on some common ideas and assumptions and can be skewed by religious and cultural differences. Every time I take any personality test and wind up having to explain the results to a tester, it reminds me just how deep my religious views are whether I am active in practicing observances or not. I live by my values and beliefs. I hold them deep and don't believe in many common cultural paradigms that contradict them. I've been exposed not just to Western culture but world culture and spent too much time studying Asian art and martial art philosophy to have a pure Western view of life -- while I'm not a convert to an Eastern religion either and don't have the clear immersion in a different culture's way of life.

Culturally, I'm as much of a mutt as President Obama is ethnically. I feel no particular ties to my physical ethnic background and their way of life but don't have close ties with an adopted one either because I have never found one that's a good fit. For years I thought that was something specific about me and the weird hard life I've lived.

Lately though, I'm beginning to look at that cultural melange and reflect on the levels of confusion so many people have in life when their usual paradigms are shattered by reality. People whose expectations get shattered by reality wind up in deep shock and lose touch with their roots. I just don't have any in particular, I think of my roots as being "human" and don't expect to be a continuation of any tradition or group except those I have deliberately chosen and adapted with plenty of questioning and philosophical rumination rather than practicing or believing anything because it was Written or because someone else said so.

The breakdown of the extended family and the way most Americans are multi-ethnic children of successive waves of migration does lead to cultural patchwork. No one lives in a comfortable monoculture without some very odd luck combined with a personality that fits well with that culture -- a Cajun person or an Amish person who did fit within the community has that deep tie with community, history and extended family.

But most people moved away and moved away repeatedly. Siblings break up and go their separate ways. People relocate for jobs every five years on average and go great distances for it. The "nuclear family" of "just parents and minor children" isn't stable in itself. That's not enough people to have a coherent society. Children don't fit into their parents' affinity groups and grow up in a world that is much freer with information. They can and do make choices other than their parents' and many times the parents are coming into the family with completely different cultural maps.

Do that enough generations and the majority have a culture of one. The majority have to make some conscious decision on what's right and wrong, what the nature of the divine is, how to behave, what to eat and wear, where to live, what to do on a weekend. Yet most of the "mainstream" does not encourage conscious choice. Much of school conditions people to obedience to authority, accepting experts' views unconditionally, expecting answers to be spoonfed and regurgitated verbatim.

A lack of training in how to make decisions and take responsibility for your choices is a serious problem for young people who have this "mutt" cultural background. There isn't a workable set pattern of answers that will fit the present constantly changing environment -- culture is adaptive. Cultural patterns that fall apart under contact with real conditions tend to vanish.

I found Unitarian Universalism to be an effective church for this type of background. The community is constructed, it's not usually heredity, but it's consistent enough across different areas to be familiar and its lack of dogma ensures that attitude of free and open questioning can flourish. Also because that attitude of open free questioning is embedded in UU thought, it gives a paradigm for understanding and adapting to change. For making conscious choices and moral decisions for yourself rather than aimlessly drifting from leader to leader hoping someone else will tell you how to live.

Very often the people who tell the drifters how to live have their own agenda. Cult victims may be suffering from culture breakdown and find the mass approval of the cult addictive. The unscrupulous will take advantage of any weakness anyone has in order to get what they want, so naturally cults flourish. In the long run they don't prove satisfying though or provide the real cultural depth they emulate.

This is at the root of a lot of why I stand against conformity and unquestioning obedience. It winds up serving those who take advantage of it, either the unscrupulous or worse, the idealist who ignores the real consequences of their passionate fixed ideas. In a healthy culture, 5% of the people just won't fit the culture as it is -- that is a healthy proportion of misfits no matter what the prevailing culture is. The proportion of misfits in America is so much higher that it's pathological, because the choices are to become a self defined misfit or just get used repeatedly by anyone who has a direction and an agenda.

These personality tests are an attempt at self knowledge, but they fall short if you don't fit the parameters of the questions.
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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2009 02:49 am (UTC)
I've been considering checking out the UU church.
Feb. 27th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
It's very cool. They do charge annual dues for formal membership, but most events and services are open to nonmembers. Also the one I joined through required you to take a four week course in the history and ideas of UU so that you did understand what you were getting into with it. I thought the history was utterly fascinating, it was an enjoyable course -- and not as heavy as the sort of training you'd get with converting to Judaism or Catholicism.

What I love about it is that the main rule is respect for others' beliefs and conscience, plus a deep awareness that they may see some aspect of divinity that you couldn't from your perspective. Attending weekly was like getting a wonderful comparative religion course for free, and every week's service had thought-provoking questions left for you to answer for yourself.

I remember around the solstice that for four weeks we had completely different services every week celebrating a different midwinter. Pagan Yule got one, so did Chanukkah, so did Kwanzaa, then Christian Christmas, and there was some discussion on Ramadan too which goes on around the same time.

So it's always broadening and it feels so safe to know you're around other people who have dedicated themselves to tolerance, acceptance and peaceful conflict resolution.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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