After dinner the conversation swings around to Myers-Briggs. Me I’m an ENTP, says the host. I’m an ISFJ, says the hostess. Is she ever, says the host. One of their friends says, that sounds about right. I could have guessed, she says.
The others are unfamiliar with the personality test so the three explain. How there are four categories and in each you’re either one or the other. Introverted (I) or Extroverted (E). Sensory (S) or Intuitive (N). Thinking (T) or Feeling (F). Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
One woman looks at her husband and says, well it’s sure no secret what you are. What the hell’s that supposed to mean, he says.
A suggestion is made that everyone take the test and all of them are into it except for one man opposed to the idea. One of the guests pulls out his phone, calls up one of the many personality indicator tests on the internet, reads aloud the questions. The hostess gets paper and pencils for everyone so they can write down their answers. This is way better than charades, someone says.
How do you win, asks another. You don’t win anything you idiot, it just tells you what you are, says his wife. Another one says, my profile is going to kick ass. Someone else says, what if I don’t like mine, can I trade it in.
The skeptical man refuses to participate. You do know this is all bogus, he says. Oh but it’s not, says the hostess. We did this with my family once then compared their jobs with what a personality book said they were cut out for. Each time, right on the money. It was weird. The man shakes his head. Don’t worry, I’ll do his profile, says his wife. Let’s see, S for skeptic. S for suspicious, someone says. S for stick-in-the-mud, says another.
When they are done they have become one ENTP, two ISFJs, one ISTP, one ISFP, one ESTJ, one INFP, one ESTP, and one ENFJ. As for the skeptic, his wife declares he is an ISTJ.
The ISFJ is surprised to learn he is an ISFJ. I’m not sure that’s right, he says. Oh it’s so right, says his wife. Sounds close enough, another says, though I can picture you as an ISTP too. For real, an ISTP, he asks. Another is surprised she came out E instead of I and her husband who turned out I thinks he should maybe be E. Maybe you two have been married too long, your personalities have switched places, someone says.
ESTPs are the best, says the ESTP. You mean the neediest, says another. You know, says the host, three-fourths of men are Ts whereas three-fourths of women are Fs. No surprise there, says the INFP.
So are you born with your type or does it change as you get older, someone asks. I think you’re born with it. It’s locked in. Not if you have one of those freak accidents it isn’t, someone says. Like that lifeguard who got struck by lightning and became an opera singer.
I’m feeling a little exposed here, says the ISTP. Like I’m naked or something. Don’t sweat it, says the skeptic, it’s all nonsense anyway. You’re just saying that because you’re an ISTJ, says his wife. Seriously, says the ISTP, I wish I hadn’t done this. I mean now I feel like you guys can see right through me.
Someone says, so this means there are a total of sixteen combinations. Sixteen types of humans. So if we could get one of each and line them up we’d have a composite of the human race. Another says I think you’d need two of each, one male and one female. Then you’d really have the full spectrum. Actually you’d need samples from every ethnic group. How so, someone asks. Well think about it, a white ENTP is not going to be the same as an Asian ENTP or an African American ENTP. That is so racist, says another. How is that racist, he says.
The ENTP says, imagine if there were an alternate universe and five couples sitting around. They would all be the opposite of us. Imagine what those relationships would be like. Everyone tries to imagine their spouse as the inverse of what they are. There’s an awkward pause.
But not for the skeptic. He gets up to pour himself another glass and says, or better yet, imagine a universe where people willingly took their singular one-of-a-kindness, their wholly unique and innate personalities, and reduced those unclassifiable essences into wildly reductive cartoon formulae. Imagine a world where people found joy in typecasting themselves in such perversely limited fashion.
The skeptic’s wife looks at him. Why are you being such a dick is what she wants to say but instead says, spoken like a true ISTJ.
He bangs his finger four times on the coffee table: It’s. All. Horse. Shit.
But the following day cracks begin to appear in what was for the skeptic such certainty of mind the night before. As he speaks to the spirits in his bonsai trees, tiny cloud people with bells for ears, he outlines the problem. It’s the arbitrariness of the classification system, he says. Why those four categories. Why not five or seven. Plus it’s always presented in the positive. Like a horoscope. All ends of the spectrum are fine, everything’s cool, don’t hurt anybody’s feelings. Yet consider the psychopath, what a horrible personality type he must have. And what of other cultures that don’t privilege this particular spectra. What of an eastern society where extroverted behavior is generally frowned upon. Or a culture where blatant emotional displays are discouraged. Wouldn’t most people be I’s in the former, T’s in the latter. How could we not be culturally shaped, marked by our tribal conditioning.
The miniscule white entities in his bonsai trees grin, ears chiming like far away pipes.
And yet, when you consider the degree to which we’re all culturally conditioned anyway, then the prospect of being assembled into a finite grouping of personality combinations seems not all that preposterous. What matter if it’s sixteen or twenty or twelve. The point is there would have to be a limit. Otherwise there would have to be a new personality type for every human, which would be the height of narcissism. Humans being not nearly as original as they fancy themselves.
The tiny white gods giggle at this, their laughter floating in the faintest of silvery showers.
Perhaps that is the dilemma right there in a nutshell, says the skeptic. Our lot is to be forever pulled toward the dream of singularity, while cruelly rooted in the commonality of our personhood.
The glowing miniature beings burst into a chorus of laughter, raucous to their ears but barely audible to the skeptic, manifesting as the echoes of faraway flutes. Some laugh so hard they fall off the tiny tree limbs into the manicured moss below.
Derek Owens directs the Writing Center at St. John’s University, NY. Information on his art, writing, and teaching can be found at derekowens.net.