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I was taking one of those online quizzes that tells you your personality type recently when an old issue came back to mind. This was one of those iterations of the Myer’s-Briggs test. You know, the test that measures eight variables and renders results like “ISTJ” or ENFP” or whatnot. Those variables are: introversion (I), extroversion (E), sensing (S), intuition (N), thinking (T), feeling (F), perceiving (P), and judging (J). I HATE this test, especially the simplified online versions of it—though the fact that they are simplified is also a redeeming feature, because the test itself seems so heavily flawed that shortening it at least truncates the time commitment to such nonsense. But I take it every so often to remind myself how useless it is as a descriptor of one’s identity.
You see, I used to test as “INTP” on this a lot, but nearly every question feels unsatisfying, and I wish there was a “both equally” option. This last time I took it, I tested as “ENFJ,” which made me laugh. Granted, each version of this test is different from each other one, but the long and short of it is that this test has no mechanic to reflect growth over time. It may as well be a one-sentence question asking, “And how are you feeling today?” The biggest shortcoming of this test (and many others like it) is that it has a massive blind spot with higher levels of development. Call it Maslow’s Self-Actualized stage, Ken Wilber’s (higher) Vision-Logic stage, Spiral Dynamics’ Second Tier stages, or any number of stages identified by modern developmental psychology or eastern development models such as those put forth by practitioner/philosophers like Aurobindo, but these stages remain completely unrepresented by many tests and metrics.
I say “unrepresented,” but usually they are misrepresented. Because when we see someone who scores as “introverted,” but who is in near-total balance with their extrovert tendencies, we say they are an “introvert with extrovert skills.” When we see someone whose “thinking” and “feeling” tendencies are in near total balance, we still act as though they are more one than the other, and use that to define them. But what is really going on much of the time is that both qualities have been transcended by a higher order of functioning that fully integrates both, and variations in this balance represent conditional factors, slight preferences, moods, or testing error margins (even due to the semantics of the questions or criteria).
Having heard people (even some licensed psychologists) expound on how introverts and extroverts work, making such absolute statements like “you’re either an introvert or an extrovert” and “introverts recharge by being alone while extroverts recharge by being with people,” I’m appalled at how unexplored the growth metrics are. There are mountains of data about these, but as most people don’t reach these advanced stages, there is much less interest in studying them in the broader context of cultural assumptions. It is not even acknowledged as a possibility within the generally accepted approaches, for example, that perhaps people start as either introverted or extroverted, and then progress over time to a point where both these approaches are transcended and people might “recharge” through either means at will. It is not understood how both structures could be tools to be used or set aside at will, depending on what is necessary or appropriate. You’re just one or the other for life, and people will call you a liar if you claim a change that cannot be interpreted by the measures they feel are definitive.
One of the reasons Ken Wilber is my favorite author is because he collects the data on such things and pieces it together, and the result speaks to my experience without contradicting those of others. To sum up the bulk of the findings, there appears to be a stage of development, often called “Integrative,” but known by other names already shown above, that transcends many of these boundaries that are assumed to be rigid and defining at prior levels of development. Of course, that quality pertains to every stage in regard to every previous stage, but the Integrative stage seems to integrate all the different levels of mental (and prior) development into one continuous model that doesn’t privilege any in its own worldview. Whereas each previous stage integrates all prior ones, none of them tend to realize that this is what they are doing, and so pathologies develop freely from this misunderstanding as each new development simply tries to replace all previous ones (rather like trying to replace the fifth floor with the sixth floor). The Integrative stage is the first that realizes this fully, and stops trying to destroy all the structures on which it stands. It is therefore also the first stage to really have the tools to value each previous stage and feel somewhat unbiased in acknowledging the contributions of each.
Prior to that, people tend to have this view of the world that Wilber refers to as “flatland.” Everything is interpreted along a linear continuum. Left vs. right, right vs. wrong, nurture vs. nature, etc. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a meaningless concept from that point of view, because among those who only understand lines, the pinnacle of that pyramid (or triangle) model only translates as “dead center along the linear continuum.” If you can’t acknowledge depth (or height), then you have to collapse all the levels of that model into one, squishing that triangle into a thin line, and then “balance” appears to only be about how close to the exact middle of it something falls. When no one understands transcendence (which requires new heights/depths to be recognized), there is no way out of the “introvert/extrovert” trap. You’re either one or the other, and if you appear to be in the exact middle, people will default to “whatever you used to be” as their definition of you. There is no way out of the “conservative/liberal” political identity trap either. If you’re in the middle of the flatland continuum, you’re just called “moderate,” no matter how much farther you’ve gone. No one cares if you’ve transcended these identities in the Integrative stage, where you value all previous stages and thus have a broader understanding of when and where conservativism and liberalism are useful and appropriate—they can’t even recognize it. The best they will grant is the term “moderate” or “apolitical.” You’re certainly out of luck if you try to tell liberals that there is something more liberal than them—that only translates as “farthest left of the scale,” and that’s crazy (and the statement is viewed as arrogant, to boot).
This is why when I say these models fit my experience but don’t contradict the experiences of others, I mean something very specific. People believe it contradicts their experience, but while I’m not saying this view is 100% correct and others are just wrong, what I usually see is that people unconsciously interpret their experiences according to this continuum—and that is where the contradiction ensues. When we see something we don’t understand, we can do our best to describe it, and leave the interpretation open. If, however, we have the hubris to think we understand everything, we will usually map what we don’t understand onto some model or worldview that we DO understand and say that is what we are seeing.
With the anti-war protests during the Vietnam War, studies show 20% of protesters at postconventional stages and 80% at preconventional stages. The postconventional protesters understand (but often try to eradicate) conventional views and preconventional views. Conventional types look at postconventional views and can either admit to a gulf of understanding, or (more often) translate them as preconventional views (e.g. “you all just hate authority!”). Preconventional protesters tend to actually hate authority and believe they have the same views as postconventional types. When they look at conventional views, they think they are seeing rigid, authoritarian Roman-times sorts of autocracy where the strongest try to subjugate everyone else. Conventionalism, to them, looks like getting people to agree to be subjugated, rather than allowing them to pursue their own dominance over others. This mismapping and misapprehension is almost entirely unconscious—though again, habitually acting unconsciously is just one more thing we can claw our way out of. It is not a characteristic on some flatland continuum that need define us for the rest of our lives.
And the very worst thing about this flatland is that, being born of the mind rather than the Integrative beginnings of the transmental, it is a land with an economy of scarcity—both emotionally and physically. True generosity does not exist there, though people claim that it does because they often intuit true generosity before squeezing all the juice out of it to stick it into flatland.
Are you equally at home with your traditionally masculine and feminine inner identities? We all have degrees of both, because we are all complete human beings, in potential apprehension if not in realization. But if you are equally comfortable with all inner gender identities (usually a development a few stages higher than Integrative), this will be read as “indecision” or “less masculine” or “less feminine.” It’s not about forcing a physical change on yourself—that is a choice more to do with sexual orientation than comfort with inner identity, and it proves little in either (any) direction. Are reason and emotion equally modes of knowledge, learning, and discovery for you? That’s a stage up from Integrative, but to others, you’re just “in the middle.” People might call you “emotionally intelligent,” but even that goes in stages. Logical types will fail to see validity in the emotional component of your arguments and purely emotional types will wonder why you have to be so reasonable all the time. Balanced big-picture thinking and awareness of detail? Truly a multicultural world identity? Have that give and take balance down pat because you know the deeper kind of giving that gives rise to both? Do you know how to balance substance and surface because you now understand that surface is just a natural result of substance and doesn’t require much of your active attention anymore? Do you feel at home with spontaneity as well as with planning ahead, and feel sometimes that your planning is spontaneous because you’re so very fast at it? Do you fit into all the cliques by having a comfortable part of your identity resonate with them, and yet fit into none of them because they all view you as a traitor? Do you find it easy to describe your intuitions because they are so close to where your awareness now sits that everyone around you thinks you must have dwelled on a new insight for ages to come up with the words?
All of these distinctions are lost in flatland. You are “in the middle.” It may impress people how “in the middle” you are, and they may respect you quite a bit—usually until you disagree with some flatland perception of theirs—but as long as they try too hard to explain rather than discover what they don’t know, you will simply seem balanced because you are “in the middle.” You will at times appear annoyingly balanced when people think being in the middle is not the right way to go, never mind that they are the only ones who decided you were there in the first place. People will latch onto the little variations-from-center that you display as evidence of your identity, failing to account for preferences and areas of excellence, whereas transcendence requires only competence at everything that is integrated.
And yet even balanced is not the right word, because it only describes how integration appears in flatland. The organs of the body all appear to function like a balanced machine because they are transcended by the whole being of the organism. The Beyond gives rise to the Balance. And flatland balance cannot measure greater degrees of beyond. One of my favorite movies is K-PAX (more so than the book, even). One of my favorite moments in that movie is when Prot asks, “Why is a soap bubble round?” He ends up answering himself, “Because it is the most energy-efficient configuration [for a soap bubble].” It is the same with balance. True balance does not come through economies of scarcity and finitude. You don’t balance a soap bubble by trying to tweak each side of it to fit the other side. You balance it by blowing it into existence from somewhere else—from a dimension beyond flatland.