Friday, October 31, 2008

Personality Differences

Every time I take a personality test (I always want to call it the Briggs & Stratton test, but I actually do know that is not its name, and that Briggs & Stratton is an engine manufacturer), such as the Myers-Briggs test – in any of its myriad forms – I always come out the same way. The first time I did this, my daughter – one of my favorite people in the whole world – supplied the test and had everyone in my family take the test and read the accompanying description of their personality. No one in my family had any doubt as to which category I would fall into, and, of course, they were right. The best part, though, was when they made me read out loud the description of my personality type. That was a little creepy, and not only because they all laughed until they could hardly stand at every sentence. The creepy part was that it sounded like a very astute description written by someone who knew me personally, and well. The only two parts that I can still remember were that: 1) less than one percent of the population fall into my category; and 2) the phrase – which may not be remembered exactly correctly – “… is able to instantly recognize contradictions, no matter how far removed in time or space.” It was creepy because I had no idea that there were other people not only like me, but apparently exactly like me. Not only that, but there were enough of them that a very accurate description could be written of them as a class of people with personalities distinct from all others.

Well, that was a long time ago. I just finished taking the test again on line, and found, to no surprise, that I am still in the same class – heavily introverted, heavily intuitive, slightly thinking (versus feeling), and moderately judging. (My family, I know, thinks I am heavily judging, but they are wrong.) A phrase in the current description of this personality class contains the following eerily correct statement:

“Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations.” From:

When I was in college, I thought everyone thought the way I did. For years this was a good working assumption because I was in a school full of engineers and scientists, and their thought processes were close enough to mine that communication was never an issue.

Then I met my wife.

Needless to say, her M-B personality type is different from my own. Another phrase from my personality description fits this situation:

“This sometimes results in a peculiar naiveté, paralleling that of many Fs -- only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.” From:

Reasonability and directness – is that too much to ask for?

“… willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship …” That was certainly true in my case. When I saw my wife for the first time, she was 17, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. It wasn’t five minutes before I was thinking of marriage, and I hadn’t even met her yet. I was told she was going with someone, and I thought to myself, “There is a boy who is going to be terribly disappointed.” She is still beautiful – she is beautiful in all the ways it is possible to be beautiful – of face and form, of personality and disposition, of spirit and adventure, in intelligence, and, especially, in her innate desire to help others.

It first began to dawn on me that our thought processes were not the same shortly thereafter. This was a brand-new idea – one I had never had before. The earlier description of my personality type included the phrase, “… feels no need to state the obvious.” I knew this about myself already, having spent untold hours at work sitting in silent deathly boredom through meetings where people debated at great length and in excruciating detail some subject, only to eventually come to what to me was already an obvious conclusion. Unfortunately, what is “obvious” to me is not always “obvious” to my wife. This difference led to several instances of me going one way and her another, which got me to thinking, “What is going on here?” I tended to feel that she was being deliberately obtuse, and she tended to feel that not only was I being perversely unfeeling and non-communicative, but also that her views were being deliberately undervalued.

Eventually I began to understand that our thinking processes were just different. Mine were not necessarily better (or worse), but were just different. Sometimes her conclusions were better than mine, which I found a bit confusing, because she had reached them by a path that I could not follow. But at other times, and in areas where I had done what I considered a lot of homework, I knew what I knew, and thought my conclusions were better.

“To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of "definiteness", of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise -- and INTJs can have several -- they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don't know.” From:

Well, now I know more about what I don’t know than I did before I met my wife, but one thing I still don’t know is how my wife’s mental processes operate. Although she is a compelling attraction that I cannot ignore, she is still a great mystery to me. We share a great deal in common, but in the matter of how our brains work, we are different. Dealing with that difference, and trying to understand it, is, and has been, the work of almost my entire lifetime.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hummingbird Wars

All summer long I have watched the hummingbirds that come to the feeder that sits just outside the dining room window. First to arrive in the spring are the females. They are a bit drab – green and gray in color – but are so delicate and small that they are a joy to watch. The feeder will accommodate four birds at a time, but this is overkill on the part of the feeder’s designer because four hummingbirds will never, ever be feeding at the same time. The reason is that hummingbirds are extremely territorial. The one feeding will arrive, but before beginning to feed, will look all around to make sure she is alone. Only then will she dip her beak into the fake flower to sip at the sugar solution that mimics the nectar. She swallows at an extreme rate – about seven or eight swallows per second, so it doesn’t take long to fill up. Even so, she will stop often and look around again to make sure she is undisturbed.

And often she is not undisturbed. If another hummingbird arrives, the newcomer will take a higher position from which she can dive down to attack the resident. This maneuver is often enough to make the resident abandon her perch and dive down and away from the newcomer. If she has not yet filled up, she will take the high position herself as the newcomer tries to position to drink. From her superior position, she will dive at the newcomer and drive her away. This back and forth continues until one or the other gives up and retreats. The action is very fast – almost too fast to follow with the eye. If there is a dog-fighter among birds it is the hummingbird! In less than two seconds they will have exchanged positions three or four times.

The winner begins all over again by perching – or sometimes just hovering – in front of the fake flower, to look all around for any encroaching rivals before beginning to feed.

When the males arrive, a little later in the spring, things really get hot. One male and one female MAY share the feeder, but often will not, and two males will NEVER share the feeder. Females sometimes share with one other female, but I suspect these are nest-mates, as I only see them do so later in the summer and fall.

Battles between males are even faster and more violent than between females – and a lot more colorful too. The iridescent green of the wings, and the almost blindingly bright red of the throat give off flashes of color as the sun catches the feathers just right during their aerial duels. And, the body language, especially between males, is almost laughably human-like. The newcomer arrives and takes the high position with a haughty pose that clearly says, “I don’t know who you think you are, but you are at MY feeder!” The one at the feeder looks around and says, “Who me? I’m just taking a drink here.” But he eyes the newcomer suspiciously and somewhat nervously, and very carefully avoids putting himself at any further disadvantage like, for example, putting his beak back into the fake flower. Sometimes the feeder just leaves at this point, but if he doesn’t, the battle is joined when the newcomer dives to the attack. The winner perches at the feeder, and ruffles and settles his feathers, while his body language clearly states, “Well! I guess I took care of THAT guy!”

Hummingbirds fly amazingly fast, and because they are so small, sometimes they just seem to disappear. They’re here and then they’re just gone. There is a Bradford pear tree in the yard about 20 feet from the feeder, and often the hummingbirds go there after feeding or stage there before feeding. Being even smaller than the leaves of the tree, the hummingbirds are nearly invisible once they reach the tree. But the males sitting in the tree turn back and forth, and their red throats flash each time they move. They are like bright red lasers advertising their presence.

Now, in late October, the hummingbirds are gone. They seem to leave pretty much all at the same time. We won’t see them again until next spring. One day we will see one come to the window and hover there, saying as clearly as if they had spoken English to us – “What happened to the feeder that used to hang here? I’m back, let’s get with it, you humans.”