I had to write my previous post before I could write this one because the first is the foundation of the second. The frustrations of being an introvert in an extroverted world, of having my personality traits seen as flaws instead of unique differences, led to pondering how often people use unfair comparisons. I think this is a tendency that comes naturally to everyone.
I first began to really observe this in conflict situations, specifically when the anger was directed against me….
<< And now I am getting stuck writing my thoughts about this, so I will pause and explain that my INFJ and HSP traits cause me to hate to cause pain to others and to be very negatively affected by conflict–so I will avoid conflict when possible. However, I hate it when people assume I’m spineless. My strong sense of protectiveness, justice, and personal values cause me to refuse to give in to what I believe is wrong so when a battle is important to me, I will engage. Even as a child, I have stood up to bullies who tormented friends and I have refused to give into abusive pressure to think, believe, or act against what I believe is right or true. I do see my faults and failures (usually) and I will acknowledge when I am wrong, but there is a point at which I make a stand. Maybe I am somewhat like Clark Kent who is very mild-mannered until there is injustice to battle? >>
Anyway, I watched a transformation occur in the eyes of family who once praised me but then became angry with me when I refused to give in to demands that I couldn’t fulfill and which I felt were wrong. I saw myself transformed from “Caring One” who was praiseworthy to a horrible monster who couldn’t do anything right. I often heard “I did this and this and this good thing for you….and you failed in this and this and this way.” I deeply love my family, but I never could reconcile with them, despite years of trying, because there was no room for compromise or differences, it was all “Do what we say or feel our wrath.” They felt “the burden of reconciliation rested entirely” on me because I was the one who was terrible. Yet, they were unwilling to recognize any good in me. When I heard “All your efforts to reconcile are a mere ‘drop in a teacup’ and I will never forgive you no matter what you do….” I knew there was no mending the relationship.
For a while I really struggled with whether I was as monstrous as I was told, but then I began to ponder that it really wasn’t a fair comparison if Person A compares his strengths and good actions against Person B’s weaknesses and failures (or perceived failures–because sometimes the “wrong” is perceived as a wrong but really isn’t) because then, OF COURSE, Person A will look like an angel and Person B will look like a monster. It’s not a fair comparison. To be truly equitable, a person would need to compare strengths to strengths or failures to failures. In that case, it is probable that Person B wouldn’t appear as bad as Person A believed, or that Person A would not be as blameless as she believed she was. At that point, where both Persons A and B could see each other’s weaknesses AND strengths, reconciliation would be possible. Reconciliation is impossible if one (or both) sees the other as without good and beyond forgiveness while he believes he, himself, is without fault and with no need for repentance. I think a person has to remove any hint of goodness from the other person or group so he can feel justified in continuing to hate him.
Although I had never denied the good things my family has done for me, I struggled for a while with acknowledging it. I think that the process of forgiveness is much like the grief process, in which there is 1. Shock and Denial, 2. Pain and Guilt, 3. Anger and Bargaining, 4. Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness, 5. The Upward Turn, 6. Reconstruction and Working Through, and 7. Acceptance and Hope. I don’t believe there is an easy shortcut through these stages, especially when the wrong is great and the damage is severe. However, I have been able to reach a point in which, even though the relationships are “irreconcilable,” I can say, “You meant to do me harm, but God meant it for good” and to acknowledge the good they have done and to cherish the many good memories I have. I have learned a tremendous amount about forgiveness, repentance, reconciliation, and many other things including an understanding of the fact that if we are going to compare ourselves to others, we must use a fair measure.
And this leads to the next observation: that people tend to use themselves as the standard that others ought to conform to. People tend to value their own strengths while feeling contempt towards those who don’t share those strengths. For example, if a person is outspoken, he might not value those who are quieter. If a person is physically strong, he might feel contempt for those who are physically weaker. A person who is intellectual might feel superior to those who are not as intellectual. And so on. The list of comparisons is unending.
What is not understood is that while a person might not have the strength that Person A has, she is likely stronger in areas in which he is weak. Yes, she might not be outspoken, but she might be more patient and compassionate toward others. One person might not be as good at inspiring and motivating large crowds, but he might be more gifted at mentoring and encouraging suffering individuals. Person B might not be as athletic as Person A, but he might have a more brilliant mind. And a person might not have the intelligence that a scholar has, but he might have an amazing one-of-a-kind gift, like Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic savant who can draw beautiful detailed cityscapes from memory.
There is a wonderful fable about animals who organized a school for their children. They decided that the children would all take the same curriculum which involved running, climbing, swimming, and flying. Of course, the duck, rabbit, eagle, and fish were all excellent in things that played to their natural abilities, but failed at classes requiring abilities they did not have. To expect them to all excel in every area was unrealistic. To see them as failures because they could not compete in areas they were weak in is also unrealistic.
In other words, rather than criticize people for not having our strengths, understand that each has their own strengths. Celebrate the differences rather than criticize them.
Although I have written about the frustrations of an introvert in an extrovert world, I was focusing on only one small matter. The truth is that I feel that the gifts of both introverts and extroverts are valuable and essential in this world. If everyone had the same strengths, they’d also have the same weaknesses. It would be like having a football team filled with quarterbacks. A good team has people of many different talents to fill many different positions. The quarterback wouldn’t be effective if he didn’t have his offensive line to protect him. Yellow might be my favorite color, but a picture wouldn’t be as beautiful without the colors of the other crayons in the box. I have strengths that EJ doesn’t have. He has strengths that I don’t have. We are stronger together because his strengths fill in where I am weak and my strengths fill in with he is weak. As the Bible describes it:
For I am telling every single one of you, through the grace that has been given to me, not to have exaggerated ideas about your own importance. Instead, develop a sober estimate of yourself based on the standard which God has given to each of you, namely, trust. For just as there are many parts that compose one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function; so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others. But we have gifts that differ and which are meant to be used according to the grace that has been given to us. (Romans 12:3-6,)
…For indeed the body is not one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not a hand, so I’m not part of the body,” that doesn’t make it stop being part of the body. And if the ear says, “I’m not an eye, so I’m not part of the body,” that doesn’t make it stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If it were all hearing, how could it smell? But as it is, God arranged each of the parts in the body exactly as he wanted them. Now if they were all just one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are indeed many parts, yet just one body. So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you”; or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be less important turn out to be all the more necessary… (1 Corinthianns 12:14-22)
In addition, I believe that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. Or, as Detective Monk often said about his unique talent in the television series, “It is a blessing…and a curse.” I’ve seen people with tremendous gifts use them graciously to strengthen and encourage others. I’ve also seen people misuse their gifts in ways that destroyed others. For example, a person gifted with generosity can tremendously bless the needy…or she could become prey to every con artist with a sob story to the detriment of her own family or those in real need. A person gifted with organizational skill can do tremendous good in a community…or he can become a domineering control freak. Being able to boldly and graciously confront wrong can change many lives for good….or a person can become a critical and self-righteous person who destroys those who displease her. Compassion is a beautiful gift…but it can easily be used to enable others in their dysfunctions. The key is to learn to live in balance, wisely using our gifts and abilities to truly help others rather than to destroy them.
A final observation is that people tend to believe that there can be only one right perspective–their own. But that’s not true. I believe that there is absolute truth, good and evil, ethical and unethical, etc. However, there is a difference between a true right and wrong and a personal believe or perspective. For example, 2 + 5 = 7 is always true and any other answer is not true. However, the fact that yellow is my favorite color doesn’t mean you are wrong if blue is your favorite color.
I have seen this difference of perspectively recently regarding the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that is sweeping the world. I dislike such challenges because they feel manipulative to me. I have compassion toward those who suffer from various diseases, but I have limited funds and I’d rather give to people or causes that are important to me….without a lot of drama. (This actually corresponds to another INFJ trait that I read about: “INFJ may be asked by a friend or relative to donate to a cause they don’t believe in. This puts them in the difficult position of deciding between honoring their own perspectives or maintaining the harmony of the relationship.”) I also watch people leaping to participate in fads that periodically sweep the world with bemused amazement. However, I honestly don’t feel people who participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge are inferior or wrong. Many are giving because they feel deeply touched by those who suffer from ALS. One friend who said she would not want to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge actually researched ALS and felt great compassion for their suffering. She might choose to give without the Challenge. I did not look up information about ALS, but I do usually research diseases that friends are suffering so I can understand what they are going through. Other friends are concerned that the donations from the Challenge are given to an organization that uses stem cells, which they believe is morally wrong. Some participate in the Challenge but give to an ALS organization that doesn’t use stem cells. Finally Mike Rowe (who hosted Dirty Jobs) offered his response to the Challenge on his FB page. You can read it here. I thought he was thoughtful and gracious. All these perspectives are different, at least in part, from each other. Which one is the correct one? Does one “right” perspective make all the others untrue? I actually thought that the responses of all the people were thoughtful and caring and all of them had validity. Each person highlighted slightly different perspectives about the Challenged and I was thankful that they gave me different eyes to look through and to consider.
So this is–more or less–what I have been pondering this summer and for many years. To sum it all up, the moral of my post is:
Let the fish swim. Let the rabbits run. Let the eagles fly.
Play to people’s strengths.
Look through others’ eyes.
Celebrate the differences.