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Who Am I? Who Are You?

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

If you want to understand me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the things I want to live for. Thomas Merton, religious scholar, American trappist monk, poet, theologian, writer, mystic, social activist

Yesterday morning John seemed worried about us getting ready for a class we were to conduct next week. I am a bit under-the-weather, I wanted rest and to relax.

It seemed to me that he was nudging me to get off my butt and help us get our act together. And seemed somewhat oblivious to my sickness. I could feel myself getting a bit peeved. Then I remembered how much I admire his conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness is associated with a ton of valuable outcomes. Unfortunately, it is also often associated with some anxiety and worry.

John evidently could sense that earlier I had been a bit irritated. He explained to me how important it was to him to be prepared. I understood.

Some years ago, I was working to help groups of people understand each other (and themselves). To notice the “stories” that we made up about each other (and ourselves). To appreciate our differences and commonalities.

Ultimately I hoped we could become more compassionate toward each other (and ourselves) and help each other get our needs met. Solve our problems.

So I turned to Hippocrates (the four temperaments and to Dr. William Moulton Marston (DISC – behavioral styles), then to newer personality traits (OCEAN and now HEXACO and strengths (VIA 24 character strengths ) research to come up with a model and some “characters” who would exemplify certain broad orientations to life.

I wrote scripts for the characters and presented them to groups. The characters made people laugh about themselves and others in fairly good-natured ways. Some said things like “that was the best therapy I ever had.”

Then I tired of doing the presentations. And I was concerned that people might get locked into seeing themselves and others as characters rather than doing the work of trying to really understand our complexity, in ourselves and each other – our needs, our values, our goals.

Lastly, I worried that getting too caught up in characterizations might give us all the idea that we can’t change. Once we have that idea it really does become challenging to change (see the work of Dr. Carol Dweck).

There is a certain beauty in accepting ourselves AND many of us want to change in certain ways – want to be less shy, less fearful, more organized, for example. And most of the changes we want to make can be made to a certain extent.

The thing I want us all to consider getting better at, more skilled, is what I write about much of the time. Being more kind or perhaps we might say more considerate or think of it as being more compassionate.

Part of being kind, considerate, compassionate is understanding that we all have values, needs, goals. We can get along with each other, even have a good time with each other, and appreciate each other if we take a little time to investigate.

I’ll stick with couples for now. We sometimes miss what is deeply meaningful to each other. We start to think of each other as a “unit” rather than separate individuals with their own desires, concerns, fears.

Then there are the other times when we are overly aware of our differences. Our relationship starts to feel like a tug-of-war, each trying to pull the other over to our side – to our way of understanding the world, our way of doing things, satisfying our needs, our goals, our values (yes, that pic is of John and me almost 50 years ago - how little we knew).

Maybe it would help to clarify the difference in values (disentangled from social and cultural norms), needs, and goals. Values are deep – they are what makes our lives feel meaningful. But we can mistake them.

For example, we might think financial freedom is a value. But to find out if that is truly a value we can ask ourselves one question – how would my life change if I were financially secure?

We might answer with – people might like me more or I wouldn’t feel like I have to please others. In those cases, the values are not really financial freedom, but those things which we think financial freedom will bring us.

Though many needs are universal (like for safety and belonging), our unique needs, in particular, and our goals often flow from our values. We can reach a goal and meet a need and they are done, but the value remains.

In trying to connect with each other, understand each other, build our relationships and intimacy, we need to become investigators. Notice what those around us care about. Care about what they care about.

See how we can help. Observe ourselves - what we care about and how we can meet those needs.

Being kind, being considerate, being compassionate (to ourselves and others) - these help me/us big time on that journey.

And... with my caveats in mind, feel free to see the “characters” – here’s are the two youtube videos that people seem to like and learn from the most. Remember to take them with a grain of salt - humans are complex, messy, and beautiful.

I hope they are good therapy. Introverts explain themselves and share their stories. . Extroverts explain their stories

How might we journey together to The Good Life by using kindness and compassion to better understand our own and others' values, needs, and goals?

Most Personality Tests are Junk Science and Keep you from Making Meaningful Change


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