Sunday, December 13, 2009

Your Personality: to Know Language, Your Lover, and the Bible

My claim in this post is that our epistemology (i.e., the way we "know" what we know when we think we know it) has much to do with our personality (i.e., the ways we and who we are in our souls).  Human psyche tends toward four types that seem to correlate with four ways of knowing.  Maybe we should call these four personal ways of being:

1) "the right way";
or 2) "any which way";
or 3) "why that way?";
or 4) the "significant way."

We may "know" a language, or a lover, or a text like the Bible. And as we get to "know" them, we do so significantly because of our own person -- because of who we have been, who we're becoming, and who we are. So check it out:

When you or I learn a language as an adult, we tend to approach the learning by our personality preferences. Likewise, when you or I fall in love, our personality and the personality of our lover tend to be huge factors. Similarly, when you or I read the Bible, we tend to read it through the lens of our own personality. And whether learning a language, falling in love with another person, or reading the Bible -- we are prone to do so by one of four personality types.


Adult learners of a language will usually have one of four learning focuses based on and profoundly rooted in one of four personality preferences. These are respectively a focus on:

1) "the right way";
or 2) "any which way";
or 3) "why that way?";
or 4) the "significant way."

When the focus is on "the right way," the learner feels guilty when "getting it wrong." And the person appreciates language "learning environments that include repetition and drills, memorization, workbook exercises and step-by-step presentations." The "right way" learner will "flourish in classroom settings that are friendly and foster cooperation, consistency and hard work."  A student or instructor who is a Guardian type will have "the right way" focus.

When the focus is on "any which way," the learner feels bewilderment when "getting locked into just one way." And the person appreciates language instruction "that include instructional games, role playing, media presentations, dramatic plays and challenging lessons." The "any which way" person is "inspired by hands-on and active learning situations – opportunities to construct, operate and manipulate objects."  A student or instructor who is a Artisan type will have an "any which way" focus.

When the focus is on questioning "Why that way?" then the learner feels fear not "seeing the deeper or hidden aspects of the language." And the person appreciates language teaching that will "include logical and well-researched lectures, independent projects, experimentation, invention, complex problem solving and discovery through intellectual exploration." The Why learner will "want to explore the 'whys' of everything – to be competent at knowing, understanding, explaining, predicting and controlling reality." A student or instructor who is a Rational type will have an "why-this-way" focus. 

When the focus is on the "significant way," the learner feels the shame of "irrelevance" if the language or the learning is not meaningful to her or him. And the person appreciates language teaching that can "include include group discussions, role playing, dramatics and small-group projects in a friendly and personal atmosphere." The "significance" learner needs "cooperative, harmonious, personal relationships with peers and teachers in order to optimize learning potential."  A student or instructor who is an Idealist type will have a "significance" focus.

Many of the above observations come from my work with adult language learners and teachers. Whether the students and professors are sophisticated or simple in their approach to acquiring a language as an adult, they share this in common: each tends to have one of four personality "learning styles." In the university where I run the programs for English as a second language (ESL) learning, learners and instructors alike identify their personality using a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) questionnaire. Then they look at how the personality Type tends to have them focus on one of four Keirsey temperaments that demonstrate a Learning Style. (Here's a web site that gives a fair overview of MBTI and Keirsey; and here's a site I've written for ESL learners and instructors to use; and here's a comparison of categories of fours I put together some time ago but might revise some today, for what it's worth).


We tend to think of falling in love as something not very scientific at all.  But what if much of our coming to find and appreciate and "to know" our soul mate has much to do with our own personal way of being?

Earlier this year, Dr. Helen Fisher published a book to say as much.  Fisher, a "Biological Anthropologist, is a Research Professor and member of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Internet dating site,, a division of" And her website bio statement goes on to add: "She has conducted extensive research and written five books on the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality type shapes who you are and who you love."

I'm particularly fascinated that Fisher is finding things that others in human history have observed. She says this in her book, Why Him? Why Her?: Finding Real Love by Understanding Your Personality Type:
Hippocrates, Aristotle, [Carl] Jung and [Isabel] Myers
....  Indeed, psychologist David Keirsey reports that these four basic personality types have been noted in Western history since the time of the ancient Greeks....
Aristotle (384-322BC) believed that humankind sought happiness in one of four ways: through sensual pleasure, what he called hedone; by acquiring assets, the propraietare; in logical investigation, or dialogike; or in expressing moral virtue, or ethikos. Aristotle perfectly described the core traits of the Explorer, Builder, Director and Negotiator.... (page 35)
Now, Fisher hasn't quite given us the source texts for Aristotle's writings on human motivations (they're his writings on ethics) nor has she noted his priorities (i.e., fine-tuning "logic" for "theoretical" knowing or absolute "epistemology" or science). But at least Fisher understands how Aristotle, in his epistemological mapping by logic, is trying to "get right" the tendencies of humans. Fisher has matched her four categories to what she sees as Aristotle's. And now she's beginning to match them to others' views of four personality ways of being. Fisher adds:
Why is the Myers-Briggs test so popular?
Because it works, thanks to biology. Although Isabel Myers was unaware of it, most of her types fit the same four basic biological profiles that I've identified. Then in the 1990s, a brilliant psychologist, David Keirsey, a protégé of Isabel Myers, simplified her schema to four basic personality types: the Artisan, Guardian, Rational and Idealist.
I was unaware of Keirsey's types when I outlined my own set of four personality styles while sitting at my desk that New Year's Day in 2005. Only later did I become aware of the striking similarities.
The four personality types are also represented in non-Western traditions. For example, several North American Indian tribes historically living on the Great Plains of today's Midwest believed in a sacred medicine wheel representing the circle of life. To the east soared the eagle, the symbol of vision and illumination. To the west was the bear, a steady, cautious creature that hunkered in caves and didn't roam. North was represented by the buffalo, the epitome of reason and wisdom. To the south was the mouse, symbolizing innocence and trust. Each of these creatures represents basic traits of either the Explorer, Builder, Director or Negotiator.
In short, animal behaviorists, physicians, philosophers and psychologists have been describing central aspects of these four personality types for over two thousand years. But I have had the advantage of twenty-first-century science, enabling me to link these four temperament constellations with their biological underpinnings.  (page 36)
If you're not a biologist or anthropologist like Aristotle or Helen Fisher, then you may still appreciate the personality types that they observe.  But then again, whether and how you appreciate these categories of ways of being might just depend on yours.  And I think, more or less, your tendency will be to go for one of these ways:

1) "the right way";
or 2) "any which way";
or 3) "why that way?";
or 4) the "significant way."


Some time back, Wayne Leman at the Better Bibles Blog posted on "Bible translation and personality types."  I think Leman is on to something.  He was trying to see whether personality type might correlate with preferences for particular English bible translations and versions.  At the time, I began to tabulate responses to his blog posts, and looked at Keirsey's four personality temperaments to come up with this correlation (noted in a comment at the post linked above here):
So far:
1 “so-what-can-I-do” Artisan has expressed a preference for NLT and TNIV.
7 “so-be-it” Guardians have most expressed preferences for ESV and NRSV.
9 “here’s the So-What” Idealists have most expressed preferences for NLT and NRSV.
10 “why, so why” Rationalists have most expressed preferences for NLT and TNIV.
The solution-prone Guardians do NOT seem to mention or to like NLT or TNIV.
The theorizing Rationals do NOT seem to mention or to like ESV.
Some meaningful Idealists will go for KJV (but not many of the solution-prone Guardians or the theorizing Rationals). But some of the solution-prone Guardians and some of the theory-prone Rationals will go for the NKJV (but none of the meaning-prone Idealists and not even that solo activity-prone Artisan will even mention that old KJV).
If there were more of us talking, then the patterns would likely be clearer. There do seem to be several patterns of four among us.
Wayne and I tried to keep up with this in email for just a bit.  But we got busy and lost interest.

Reading Willis Barnstone's three [3] possibilities for or tendencies in translation has inspired me to think about this a bit more. He says, on the one hand, there are "two extremes that can be satisfied happily: [1] a gloss for the reader who wants help with the source text [i.e., an interlinear], and [2] imitation for the ['translating'] writer who wants to collaborate with, adapt, or rewrite a precursor's [originally-authored] work." On the other hand, "[t]here is also [3] a middle ground between [1] gloss and [2] imitation, whose purpose is to hear the source author more clearly than the translator author"

I actually believe there's a fourth tendency in translation (especially Bible translation) that Barnstone doesn't get to. I may get to blogging about that some day. In the mean time, I've been noticing how some people like Dr. Jim West are ever concerned about "getting it right" (even with his Bible translation). And if you read the post I'm linking to where I mention West and his "getting it right," you'll see my personality tends to want a much different approach to translation (especially of the Bible).

What do you think my personality type is? And what's yours? And does it have nothing to do with how you "know" when knowing is a language or a lover or the Bible (in translation)?


Bob MacDonald said...

The medicine wheel and the division into 4 is something I studied briefly in the early 90s with my aboriginal child. I've always enjoyed a simpler rule - that there are two kinds of people in the world - those who divide everything into two finds of thing and those who don't. I am not so sure that four is much better than 2 - maybe 2 times better.

Katherine said...

No way you're not an Idealist. :-) The question is, which one? If I were one to bet, I'd put money on INFP.

Myself, I'm an INFJ (a follower of "the significant way" in your nomenclature) to a T...well, an F I suppose. I remember doing a lot of this type of learning personality stuff in my time at GIAL. Meyers-Briggs (which I already knew), brain dominance, visual/audial/tactile, etc., and integrating that into an overall category. On the one hand, some of the things that I'm supposed to be drawn towards I can be somewhat indifferent to (group projects and dramatics), but when the necessity of friendly, cooperative, harmonious relationships and setting are mentioned, I have to laugh because it is SO true for me.

What made the discussion interesting was the recognition that people can and do develop learning personalities that are sometimes distinct from their own basic personality. I feel comfortable with and am drawn to aspects of the Guardian learning style (memorization, drills, worksheets) and the Rational one too (problem solving, always asking why). I'm also reminded that traditional schooling, at least in the US, leans heavily on certain styles and not others. I think a lot of people's troubles in school have more to do with learning style and less to do with aptitude.

Where was I? Oh right, your other question. Sure it affects my knowing. Who I am, who I've become to be; it affects what I notice, what I overlook; what questions I'm always asking and how I ask them, as well as which questions I never bother to ask; what I care about and what I don't; what I consider important and what I find negligible. It's good for me to be the way I am (at least, a healthy version of myself), and at the time time it is good and right that others not be like me. I need others and their "knowing". It takes two eyes seeing and knowing in their distinct but overlapping way for our human bodies to gain some perspective; surely the same (four-eyed?) knowing is needed in the body of Christ, for us to grow into our fullness.

Jane said...

I have to go off and interpret now but the first part of this post is almost as if you had finished a conversation I had with someone about to learn a language - thank you!!
More later!

J. K. Gayle said...

Bob, I really appreciate that you've studied some of this with someone else who might get it more profoundly. And I do like your last sentence here. As for twos, and splits, and black-and-white -- I'm getting a bit wary. Aristotle's binary was definitely masculinistic, but it can be useful if appropriated appropriately. :) .

Katherine, Thank you very much for your comment! Do you blog? You say so much, I'd like to hear more. Thanks for sharing your Myers-Briggs type and for confirming some of your learning experiences and tendencies. You feel comfortable with the guardian and rational temperaments in learning, you say. And I feel very comfortable with the idealist style. It's not my tendency, however. You guessed my MBTI exactly, except I'm a bit more of a T than an F: an INTP, with the P maybe helping me be more of an F, an Idealist many moments of my day. You mention the body of Christ and the needed personalities and ways of knowing. I agree. And I often wonder about Jesus, with two eyes a particular color and a learning temperament a particular style as well. I think he is an NF and perhaps an INFP. Aristotle, I believe, is an ISTJ or perhaps an ESTJ (though Keirsey has him as an NT).

Jane, Thank you for stopping by after your conversion with someone else. We do want to hear more, after your interpreting and other important work. Now I have to run, and look forward to more later!