Because life is a series of edits

Totally Illogical

In Family, Humanity, Young Ones on April 13, 2008 at 8:27 pm

“Spock is a main character in the original Star Trek TV series, and one of the most enduring characters from American 1960s television. He is the only alien in the permanent cast: half-Vulcan, half-Human, and serves as the science officer and executive officer of the USS Enterprise, under Captain James T. Kirk. His personal struggle between the Vulcan logical self and his human emotional self is the centerpiece of the character and created some evocative drama.” (Wikipedia)

My 9-year-old was to complete a pre-writing assignment for a little half-page paper about a member of her family. She chose to write about me. One of the prompt questions was, “What facial expression is most common for the person?” My daughter’s answer: “His face is mostly straight.” She did elaborate, though: “He sometimes uses his hands to explain better.”

I’ve gotten the whole “Stoic/Spock” thing from others over the years, but it was so strange to read my child’s words describing the phenomenon. Granted, I’ve never had a very expressive face, which was always a problem when I did summer theater during my high school years (I was a lousy actor), but it’s weird to be perceived by others (especially family) as so seemingly unemotional. I just don’t think of myself that way.

A month ago, as part of an attempt to continue to learn how my students see me, I asked them to draw me from their perspective (you should have seen some of the drawings), as well as to write down five honest words to describe me. While there were twice the number of positives to negatives (a good thing), the adjectives that surprised me the most were along the lines of the unemotional: “boring,” “dull,” “monotone,” “passionless,” and “zone out to la-la land.”

Monotone? Passionless? Really?

Part of the challenge (at least with my students) is my dry sense of humor, which few freshmen get the first time; part of it is my INTJ strategist/scientist/mastermind personality type, which I supposedly share with such “notable” figures (among others) as Ayn Rand, William F. Buckley, Isaac Asimov, John Maynard Keynes, Susan B. Anthony, Peter the Great, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Wouldn’t we throw a party you’d just love to miss?

Which brings me back to a question I’ve wrestled with for years: When the Scriptures talk about a glad heart making a cheerful face (Proverbs 15:13), what if you just don’t have a face that is all that good a conductor of joy…or, apparently, anything else?

  1. being an INTP i can relate a bit. having a beard doesn’t help much, since it masks whatever lines might form those times i do smile or laugh.

    most people who know me well, and are observant, and good listeners, have grown to see the subtle nuances in my facial expressions, particularly my eyes. at the same time i have learned to detect my feelings more, and to communicate them verbally and non-verbally to others through using my hands and face.

    to your question. i would offer that i think the point of the proverbs (and psalms), particularly those that talk about the heart, is to shape what we value. in 15:14 we are told the discerning heart seeks wisdom. connecting verse 13 & 14, the heart that seeks wisdom, delights in wisdom (over folly) makes a cheerful face (brings the seeker joy).

    likewise, heartache is tied with enjoying folly. folly crushes the spirit of the person who delights in folly.

    the emphasis does not, in these passages, so much seem to be on how does my attitude transfer a positive emotion (conduct joy) from myself to another. that could be construed from other places (psalm 104:14-15)

    last, i think there is a place for personality types … INTP/J people are more thinkers (and so tend to not pay as much attention to our bodies, or other’s feelings) … but our personality types do not trump godly character; and i think there are times that i need to submit my personality type to serve those around me who need to “hear” how i am feeling through either words or my physiognomy. if i am cheerful, then i will want to express that cheer. at times i will do this for my own pleasure (because i feel like expressing my cheer), other times i will do so in order to connect with others. at those times, i should recognize that of the forms of human communication, a lot more of it is non-verbal than verbal … so, perhaps i need to practice intentionally using non-verbal language until it becomes more natural, since it doesn’t come natural to my personality type.

    is there some rule about not writing a response longer than the original post?

  2. Are we responsible for how others perceive us?

    I am regularly chastised for the intensity on my face….AND I am an ENFJ. In fact, on Friday, Bob Burns told me it was okay to smile. I told him that smiles happen after coffee – which I was deeply in need of.

    I have to remember to have a face that looks open and warm and approachable, even though I am actually deep in thought and often too busy to talk.

  3. No rule on a long post, Steve. I fully concur with the need for character trumping personality, but I confess my face doesn’t always play along. Thanks for your thoughts, as well as the reminder of why I’ve never grown a beard (nevermind the fact that I can’t).

    Yours is a good question, Claudia. I would use Paul’s language in that “as much as it depends on you,” yes, we should feel some responsibility for how others perceive us. Obviously this can be overdone (and perhaps I’m guilty of overdoing it in my post above), but to go the other way and not care is more license than is healthy for me to have.

    I relate to your intensity being mistaken for something else (in my case, it’s usually anger). Not being a coffee drinker, I don’t have anything to blame my perceived stoicism on but my own non-expression, but unlike coffee addiction, that excuse isn’t quite as acceptable in society.

  4. what’s that old prayer, “make me seek to understand more than to be understood”? i wrestle with all this in different ways as someone who is right in the middle on the personality assessments i often feel bit schizo when it comes to how and when to let different aspects of my personality come out.

    one question of interest slightly related to steve and craig’s comments: can a person’s personality and character ever be fully separated? and, how do you think the various personality types help and hinder character development in an individual?

  5. Hey Craig,

    Don’t worry about it. We like you the way you are.

  6. Don’t go changing, to try and please me
    You never let me down before
    Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
    And I don’t see you anymore
    I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
    We never could have come this far
    I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
    I’ll take you just the way you are

    Don’t go trying some new fashion
    Don’t change the color of your hair
    You always have my unspoken passion
    Although I might not seem to care

    I don’t want clever conversation
    I never want to work that hard
    I just want someone that I can talk to
    I want you just the way you are.

    I need to know that you will always be
    The same old someone that I knew
    What will it take till you believe in me
    The way that I believe in you.

    I said I love you and that’s forever
    And this I promise from the heart
    I could not love you any better
    I love you just the way you are.

  7. rob- if you weren’t my husband, i would think that strange

  8. I identify with what you say above (I fully concur with the need for character trumping personality, but I confess my face doesn’t always play along), and I do have a less “intense” personality (I am more logical and wisdom type [vs. prophetic]).

    However – I think it is the right thing “to tell my face what I feel.” :)

    The problem for me – in most cases – is that I do not have a genuine JOY in my heart and I am not really excited about what I teach, believe etc…So – from my point of view, many times is not simply about “telling my face what I am feeling,” but rather about FEELING what I should feel.

    The British are supposed to be cool and calculated…and I am sure that many (most?) of them are…but have you seen a cool Briton when Beckham scores in the World Cup? I do not care what type of personality he has, if he is a football fan, he will jump to the ceiling…and he will send his excitement to his face :)

  9. Good thoughts, all. So much to engage with; perhaps in future posts. In the meantime, I had to share this message one of my students sent me on Facebook last night. It read:

    “This is a warning that I am not sucking up in any kind. Please do not take it like that. I just thought i would tell you that since the ‘Draw Mr. Dunham’ activity, I can tell you have changed a lot for the better as a teacher. Your class has not only been easier to understand since then, but also more enjoyable. So sorry if your wife cried about the pictures and all, but I think it helped.”

    In case you don’t speak Freshmen, this is a compliment…

  10. I too am a INTJ. Nevertheless, I cannot allow that reality to prevent me from growing. In fact, often it has helped me to work harder at being more extraverted at times. I regularly ask trusted individuals how I am being perceived. I think it comes partly from my CPE experience. And it has helped me grow and allows me to be better understood and get my perspective or point across. Those who give honest feedback are worth more than gold!!

    As with most everything, it is a balance. Embracing who one is and growing into who God seeks for one to be . . . . :)

  11. Sorry to jump in late in the discussion here…

    Craig, this isn’t an INTJ or personality thing. As a fellow INTJ, you know me well– no one has EVER described me as being unexpressive!

    That said, to respond to Claudia and Travis: yes, we are responsible for how others perceive us, to a degree, and yes, our character and our personality are separable (also to a degree). Christ is at work in changing your character, if you are a believer, which compensates for how your personality affects you in negative ways (and highlights/emphasizes how your personality strengthens you).

    As the venerable Phil Douglass says: character fills in the gaps.

    Which I guess means that I’m more of a character than you, Craig.

  12. Indeed, Ed, truly you are the exception to every rule.

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