I bought Where the Sidewalk Ends for my daughter on her 4th birthday. Tonight, we read several of the poems before bed. While, at this age, she was more interested in the boy who turned into a TV set, the following is the one that I will read to her again and again…
Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.
i’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. the 20 year reunion. the loss of my father. the birth of my son. all are swirling around in me and about me. awakening more self-consciously introspective parts of me. the me i identify most closely with as the “real” me (though it is all me). a person who existed in those times when i had more selfish time. time to be alone with my thoughts. days of less obligation. days of naivete.
Like most people in this world, I am convinced that if you just understood the “real me”, then you’d basically never give me any trouble. And being an extreme INTJ, I have the benefit of readily available source material to help me make my case. (“You’re not being judged, you’re just being deconstructed in the search for truth!”).
While there is a large amount of material out there describing the INTJ temperament, the following summaries from amateur Thomas Lauer really struck a chord with me.
What is an INTJ?
The following is based on personal observation and one or two web sources. All of the 16 MBTI types are based on four pairs of counterbalancing attributes (four pairs make 16 possibilities, believe it or not): there are ESFJs, INTPs and so on (there are also IDIOTs but that’s an entirely different type system). By the way, MBTI means Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
I am an INTJ and INTJs have the following characteristics:
- Introverted (as opposed to Extroverted)
- iNtuitive (as opposed to Sensing)
- Thinking (as opposed to Feeling)
- Judging (as opposed to Perceiving)
Explaining what all this means in theory is best left to the many websites that deal with MBTI.
What it means in practice is much more interesting (indeed, the simple fact that I am more interested in the practical consequences than in the theory of something is in itself a characteristic of INTJs):
- INTJs are rational animals. Deeply rational. In fact, they are so rational that other people are tempted to think of them as cold, heartless, cynical et cetera. On the other hand, INTJs believe that everybody is as rational as they are (what other choice is there anyway?), and they are completely (oh, I know what I am talking about!), yes, completely flabbergasted when they interact with people for whom rationality is not the one and only credo.
- But their rationality has a crazy streak — that is the iNtuitive bit from above. An INTJ sometimes does inexplicable things because he simply knows they’ll work. That may not be rational in any conventional sense, but for an INTJ it’s still somehow rational. Probably one of the things one can’t explain.
- INTJs love ideas, love to put things to the test, love to tear them apart, so that they can see their inner workings. There are two main reasons why they love to do these things. They want to understand how something works and they look for ways to make it work even better. Incessantly. They are completely efficiency-driven. And they don’t stop at the front door: INTJs see themselves (and others) as systems (albeit rather complicated ones) and, like any other system, these systems can be (at least partly) understood and hopefully coaxed into working more efficiently.
- INTJs are given to ignoring conventional sources of authority: rank, title, swagger or sanctitude won’t sway them much. Rational arguments (or a big-enough wad of dollar bills) will, though.
- INTJs are a self-confident bunch. Sometimes others mistake this for simple arrogance (INTJs often come over at first as arrogant dogs) but in fact this has more to do with the fact that they know very well what they do know and, more importantly, what they don’t know.
- An INTJ builds a complex world system in his mind (and starts with that early in life); he updates this system continuously. Literally all the time: an INTJ’s brain is a giant pattern-matching machine that works round the clock.
- Their world system and total reliance on it is one reason why INTJs can seem to be very opinionated people (let’s face it: they are opinionated!).
- INTJs don’t care very much what others think of them. Or put differently, their world system is mostly independent of whether others understand and support it. This is in a way completely rational: it’s their system and they have to live with it.
- But if someone presents a valid argument they can’t tear apart, INTJs are able, even eager, to adapt their system in a very short amount of time. They adore truth much more than any system they’ve built. Because for them their system is only a working model of The Truth, nothing more, nothing less.
- INTJs are perfectionists. They want to make things as good as humanly possible… and then some. On the other hand they are too pragmatic to lose track completely. At some point their iNtuition kicks in and they realise that it’s just not worth the additional effort and they chuck it in.
- In their pursuit of perfection INTJs are unsparing of themselves and of other people. They almost never give praise (and why should they? They simply expect that everyone gives their best, much as they do, so there’s no need for praise) and they don’t expect praise for their work in turn. In fact, they are more often than not embarrassed by praise lavished on them.
- Small talk, social interaction, getting warm with strangers — that kind of thing is not their forte. They can be very good verbally, but they crave substance and not idle talk. (Substance helps them with system building and understanding things while idle talks for them is exactly that: idle). That trait makes them seem aloof and awkward in many social situations.
- Then again, they can be fanatically loyal once they have a working relationship with someone (and not just their partner or spouse). They look at relationships as they look on everything else: a project whose inner workings can be understood and optimised, by Thinking or iNtuitively.
In sum, INTJs are pretty strange animals. But we’re all strange in our ways, so what the heck:-)
If you ever meet an INTJ, here’s my short guide on how to handle him or her.
How to Handle an INTJ?
Here’s a concise guide, based on decades of personal observation (IOW, mostly staring into my own head), on how to survive first contact with an INTJ. Not all INTJs will fully conform to (or even agree with) all these points… there’s a wide spectrum of variation out there. For instance, there is a rumour going round that some INTJs are less sarcastic than others.
So please don’t take this too seriously: INTJs, after all, tend to take things seriously. Indeed, some of the feedback I’ve received over time indicates that a few people read more into my list than is healthy (one asked about my credentials as a psychologist [rolls eyes]).
On the other hand, ignore it at your own peril (not a bad disclaimer, he, he).
- Expect debate. INTJs enjoy tearing things apart to understand them and to prove (or disprove) their worthiness.
- They will gladly argue a point they don’t actually support, just for the sake of argument or to probe things. This bears repeating: an INTJ can easily and persuasively assume a point of view which is wholly contrary to his actual conviction. If in doubt, ask.
- INTJs do have a strong sense of humour, often dry and quick, but also a bit warped. It can easily take a morbid streak.
- Expect blunt, honest, sometimes even hurtful answers: if you don’t want to hear the truth, you wouldn’t ask, would you?
- INTJs like to do lists, enumerations, pattern sorting and putting things into an ordered state (ordered for them, not necessarily for the rest of the world).
- Statements you can’t back up with either solid facts or solid reasoning will at best be ignored and at worst poked fun at in ways not many people would describe as nice.
- Try to be both concise and precise. Using 81 woolly words where 18 sharp ones would suffice will not endear you to them.
- They do love wordplay though: if you can re-package your 81 woolly words in a witty, unexpected, esoteric fashion, they’ll appreciate that.
- Don’t expect an INTJ to respect anything you (or some other authorities) say just because you (or some other authorities) say it. INTJs bow to one authority only: rationality.
- For an INTJ truth is more important than simply being right, so they will readily admit errors or mistakes (once they have been convinced something they said or did was indeed wrong — to convince them may not be easy though). INTJs unfortunately expect others to work likewise (and react bewildered if they don’t).
- Stick to a statement after being proven wrong by facts or reasoning and an INTJ will treat you as an irrational idiot and everything you say as probable nonsense.
- Try not to be repetitive. It bores them to death.
- Clumsy attempts at political correctness and similar aberrations will greatly amuse them.
- Don’t be surprised at sarcasm, hyperbole and flippancy. In fact, a non-sarcastic INTJ must be severely ill.
- Expect punctuality and exactness. They try hard to be on time and they hate unpunctual-ness, especially of the casual sort: the words obsessive-compulsive come to mind.
- They tend to be quite forgetful in everyday life, especially for trivial things like car keys, dropped tools or anniversaries.
- You can’t trust that an INTJ takes something, anything for granted. They do take some things for granted, but you’ll never know what and what not. The more extreme ones are actually willing to put everything to the test (and I mean everything).
- Remember that INTJs believe in workable solutions. They are open-minded to all and every possibility, but they will quickly discard any concept they deem unfeasible.
- Their way of showing that something you say (an idea, a suggestion) has potential or merit is by trying to pull it apart (which shocks those poor souls who instead expected awe or admiration). The ultimate INTJ insult to an idea or suggestion is to ignore it altogether, because that means it’s not even interesting enough to deconstruct.
- INTJs can and will make themselves and everything else (and again, I mean everything) the butt of their jokes, witticisms and deeply nonsensical remarks.
- Do not expect INTJs to care very much about how you view them. They already know that many people see them as arrogant bastards with a weird sense of humour and they long since got used to it.
- INTJs, in the privacy of their minds, frequently think the unthinkable and expect the unexpected. So don’t be taken aback if they express little or no surprise if something “impossible” happens.
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
One of my favorite quotes is from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I have revisited it many times in my life after particularly meaningful experiences. (For example, I pasted it in the front cover of the photo album that I made after my semester abroad in college.) I have also re-read it at times that I felt my life was becoming a bit too bourgeois. In the time since my father’s death, I find myself returning to it again. My father was such a man…
But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”