On MBTI Typing: The Agony and the Ecstasy

Written by Eric G

To begin with, typing any person, whether real, fictional, or an amalgam of both, can be a futile enterprise. Fictional characters can’t give us feedback, and real people rarely do. And on those occasions when a real life person actually takes an assessment and receives a result, how can we be so sure that the assessment itself isn’t flawed? Were the questions properly understood? Was the test monitored for social bias? If participants are typing themselves based on merely reading the descriptions of each type, can we be certain that those descriptions haven’t fallen into the broad, arbitrary territory of a horoscope? We really can’t.

This might seem like a nihilistic opinion about temperament theory in general, but it’s not. I only wish to tear down the assumption that typing someone’s personality is a science, with a degree of certainty akin to the law of inertia or gravity- even scientists will agree that there is no such thing as absolute certainty.

It seems odd that such an assumption would exist in the first place. After all, a majority of the population that is interested in temperament theory would probably categorize themselves as “N”s, or “Intuitives”, who, as described by most personality junkies, are likely to be aware of the dangers of trusting absolute authority. While this might be true- theoretically, I agree with the proposition- why is it that every time someone is “mistyped”, the Internet is deluged with the rants and ravings of people who act as if their heart has been ripped out of their chest every time a favorite celebrity or character is “taken” from them, or naysayers who are so intent on adhering to a theory that is nearly a hundred years old, they forget to leave room for said theory’s evolution. Where is the famous self-awareness of the Idealists (NFs)? Where is the vaunted skepticism of the Rationals (NTs)?

Perhaps it’s because so much of this is personal- it is personality theory after all. But if that’s true, why must we treat it so much like a hard science? Human behavior is hardly scientific.

Understanding people is an art. And in art, it’s creativity, flexibility, and practice that are the key. No amount of memorized theory can replace superior skills honed by action and experience. Nor can it replace the ingenuity that derives from having confidence in these sharpened skills. Tarantino didn’t read a book on how to make movies. He watched them. Tolstoy’s writing and subsequent pacifist movement- Gandhi was an ardent follower- was spurred by the most logical of reasons: actually fighting in a war.

So what’s the best way to learn how to “type”? Here’s an idea. Meet a hundred different people and try to understand them as best as you can. Be cognizant of the different and/or similar ways that they react to stimuli i.e. life situations. But most importantly, listen to them. Really listen to them- and by that I mean, stop believing every word they say and start pondering the reasons why they might say it. Then meet a hundred more. And then another hundred. Then “meet” the same amount of fictional characters. Try to understand them like you would a real person of flesh and blood. My recommendation is to stick to good writing, whether it’s in literature, drama, film, or television. Yes, I know that makes me seem like every other pretentious former English major, but really, sometimes fictional characters can be more profound than real people if authored by the right writer. No “Twilight”. Otherwise, the only thing you’ll learn from the experience is that all females are fawning, co-dependent weaklings as opposed to just all female SFJs. Of course, I’m kidding. That was a nerdy temperament joke. See, I’m not so self-important after all.

The act of typing someone is not an exercise in futility. It is far from it. Maybe you think a certain person is an ENTP. Maybe someone else disagrees and says “definite INFJ”. Maybe the actual person reveals that they’re an ESTJ. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who’s right or who’s wrong, only that we all understand ourselves a little bit better from the effort.

About the author

Eric G

English lit. by choice, english speaker by default,
Native to los angeles, foreign to parties, tardy to everything,
Franny glass' long-lost brother, and

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