Saturday, March 31, 2007

Newest Insights

I posted not too long ago about how thinking about myself in Myers-Briggs terms has provided helpful new ways for me to gain insight into my current life challenges. I recommend this to others as well.

Part of what is valuable about this approach is not only is it helpful for oneself, but it provides an important way to understand the ways that people can be very different from each other, without casting these differences in better-worse terms. It is so easy to regard those who are different from us as "wrong" or even morally inferior. While I believe that there are times when people can be wrong about something, or make moral mistakes, I also believe that we moralize difference too much. Most human difference is not morally significant. What I mean is that most of the ways that we are different are not morally-rankable differences.

So, I have continued to ponder the question of whether I am really INFP or INFJ. What puzzled me was (as I indicated in a comment to the previous posting) that I learned that my communication style ("informing" rather than "directive") seemed to indicate that I was INFP, but other ways of thinking about the difference suggested that I am more INFJ. In particular, I regard my dominant cognitive style as introverted-Intuition, and my secondary style as extraverted-Feeling -- which indicates INFJ, according to this helpful website.

I shared my confusion with a good friend, who immediately had an answer! She said, "Oh, it's obvious why you're confused! It's because you are INFP in relation to people, and INFJ in terms of how you process information and organize your work."

"Yes!" I exclaimed. "That explains everything!"

Well, maybe not literally everything.

But it does explain why, even though I am capable of being a very clear and well-organized thinker, and capable of making quick and firm judgments, all of this totally does not apply to how I am in relation to people. I don't like to judge people. I don't like to try to control their behavior. With regard to people, I very strongly tune into their emotional states and orient myself towards being supportive of them.

And it explains why I am especially conflicted about grading (and other forms of evaluation of people). On the one hand, my INFJ side is fully capable of providing lots of detailed critical feedback. But because my students are people I know and care about, and I am especially sensitive to the emotional impact of grading and feedback, my INFP side makes it really hard for me to be as critical as my INFJ self says I should be.

And this also explains why I am finding the challenges I face right now so painfully challenging. In working with others on complex projects, I have to push them to get tasks done on time. But this is agonizing for me. My INFJ self is keenly aware of the way the process should go; but in relating to the other people involved, my INFP takes charge, and, using "informing" communication, I try to display the process to others in hopes that they themselves are self-motivated enough to follow through in the ways that the process clearly indicates they should! But, not hearing clearly directive language from me, they fail to respond. Process stalls. I feel the pressure. Because in my INFJ nature my "F" is extraverted instead of introverted, I want to protect others from the anguish I feel, and so I take too much on myself to keep things going...

Woe is me. But at least in understanding all of this better, I realize what I have to do differently: communicate more directively. This is hard for me, but knowing that it comes naturally to other people gives me comfort. Being directive is not in itself a bad way to be. Sometimes it is necessary!

But it is still hard for me.

Meanwhile, Johan Maurer's most recent posting is very helpful to me! These Ten Commandments of Management are just what I need right now!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Sign?

This past week was Spring Break at the university where I teach, but I went in to my office every day and worked very hard. I have so much on my plate -- too much, to be honest. Towards the end of the week, I was feeling tired and dismayed, because for all that effort, I'm still not caught up. So, I'm both not caught up and I'm tired.

As I woke up this morning, I thought, "even though I'm not caught up, I should take this as a sabbath day. I need rest."

But I feel guilty, because the work I didn't get to was to catch up on grading of student work. So, after doing my usual Sunday household chores, I fired up the ol' computer to collect student papers submitted online. But I discovered to my astonishment that my university's server seems to be down: utterly and completely down. I can access other web pages, but not those.

Is this a sign?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fear of Peace

I heard this on NPR this morning, and would like to say I was astounded, but, sadly, I was not:

NPR : Peace Department Proposal Rattles Small Town

It is worth listening to the full audio version when it is available. The written summary here captures some of the incredible moments, but if you listen to the audio version, there are even more!

What struck me, listening to it, was the fear I heard in the voices of the people who protested the establishment of the Department of Peace. They try to mask over this fear by saying things like this:

Residents Neil Breitbarth and Duane Roloff were convinced that the Department of Peace would send a dangerous message to America's enemies: that the United States is weak and afraid to fight.

Kortuem, who served as a Navy bomber pilot in Vietnam, worried that if Congress were to create a Department of Peace, Americans would become "a bunch of wusses," he said.

But the fear is blatantly obvious here:

The backlash started the next morning. When Vietnam veteran Jerome Kortuem read about the resolution in the newspaper, he was dumbfounded.

"I just couldn't believe it," Kortuem said. "These communists are trying to do it again."

And especially here:

One of the biggest fears voiced by critics was that the Peace Department would give the United Nations power over the United States.

"The frightening thing about this whole thing is, it's a humongous push to get the United Nations' foot in the door. And their total goal, if you study up on it all, is to take away our sovereignty," warned resident Peet Moeller.

Coincidentally, I was jotting down some thoughts about peace yesterday (some of us are trying to start a peace studies program where I teach), and found myself writing the following text which I knew could not go in our proposal, but I had to get this off my chest:

Peace Studies is an interdisciplinary field devoted to the study and development of positive concepts and practices of peace. Positive peace is the practice of nonviolent methods of building social, political, and economic justice. [This much probably is going into our proposal, but not what follows.] Building just systems is surprisingly controversial, because it is a sad truth that individuals can feel that they benefit from injustice, if they happen to be situated on the side that has the power. Most people suffer the myopia of self-interest. What may look initially like antagonism towards peacemaking is actually the fear that the transformation of systems will result in a new version of injustice that now moves those previously advantaged by injustice to the disadvantaged side. So those afraid of peace either fail to understand the nature of justice (true justice disadvantages no one), or else do not believe it is really possible.

I also found myself writing:

Those raised in rich and powerful countries uncritically accept the rather dubious claim that violence is the ultimate "action" that best solves problems, even though it is clear to anyone who has personally experienced violence that nothing is ever solved by violence, as such: rather, violence is a creator of problems. Violence causes damage that needs repair. So how could violence possibly address injustice? It may rearrange the players, putting the oppressed now in the role of oppressor while leaving the system of injustice intact. But it is not violence itself that has the power to transform unjust systems into just ones. A different kind of energy is needed for that.

And now, more directly addressing the comment that those who advocate peace are "wusses," I refer readers back to a previous piece I wrote on the courage of peacemakers, especially this sentence: "The question that has most haunted me about peacemaking is: 'How is it possible to have the courage to be willing to walk straight into conflict unarmed?'" Peacemaking requires tremendous courage. No wonder the tough-sounding guys quoted in the NPR story seem so afraid of it!

And finally, I have to end with this quotation from Hannah Arendt: "Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy."

We should be embarrassed to resort to violence: it betrays the waning of our power.

Friday, March 23, 2007

How Roles Change Us

I was already developing further thoughts on how roles change us, as a follow-up to my last posting, when something happened to bring the reality of this home to me in an especially vivid way.

I was trying to catch up on some blog-reading (I'm way behind! Sorry blogging friends!), and came across someone's writing about taking a Myers-Briggs-type personality inventory. She had a link in her blog to an online version of the test she took, and so I clicked on it and took it myself, fully expecting my results to be as they were back when I first learned about this: INFP.

(This means: Introvert more than Extravert; Intuitive more than Sensing; Feeling more than Thinking; and Perceiving more than Judging.)

To my total and complete astonishment, I found that the test reported me as INFJ!

At first I was horrified! I like being a perceptive sort! I don't want to be judgmental!

But then I read on.

First of all, my I is very strong. N and F are significantly strong. J was only slightly strong.

Somewhat consoled, I read further:

INFJs are the least common in the population. The list of famous INFJs included (get this!) Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa!

Now definitely flattered, I read more about INFJs, and about INFPs, and about the difference between P and J, and about the complex ways that all of the sets of traits relate.

There's a lot I could say, but I'll just summarize some of my personal conclusions: here is a clear case where my roles have changed me. J is not about being judgmental in the negative ways we often interpret that term, but it is about making decisions, being decisive: thereby making things happen.

INFPs and INFJs are very similar -- highly idealistic, creative, and concerned about the world. A key difference is that INFJs are more likely to try to put their ideals into action in the world.

So, it is my learning about peacemaking, and my taking on leadership roles, that are the major influences that have changed me, I think. Once upon a time, I would have been really horrified to be a J, but a sign that this might be a real change in me is that, once I read more about it, I realized that I like this change in myself. Being a J means I am more capable of effecting change in the world than I have been inclined to believe about myself. (But this is somewhat tempered by my being I as well.)

This change too I think explains much about my recent struggles. Undergoing change like this is hard, because habits shaped by earlier versions of ourselves no longer work for the new selves we are becoming and the new challenges we face. No wonder I have been feeling that I have had to learn all over again how to live!

I think I need to lighten up on myself, and be more patient with myself.

After all, I am only newly and slightly J. This might not even be a permanent change: it may be one wrought of necessity. It might be an artifact of my roles, instead of a truth of my personality.

But my current challenges absolutely demand that I learn to embrace my J side. I must conceptualize it in positive terms. I must let myself aspire to doing well with it.

And then, when these challenges are finished, I must take stock, and ask: am I happy with who I am becoming? Did I do well, or, despite my best efforts, badly? Is this what I really want to learn/become? Or is my life really about something else?

I do not know the answers to these questions yet. I keep trying to discern the nature of my ambivalence: is my ambivalence the discomfort of a change that yet is good? Or is my ambivalence the discomfort of a change that is not right for me?

I think by June or July I will be able to come back to these questions...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Integrity and Roles

I wrote in a recent entry about "growing up." For some reason, that has been a metaphor I have found helpful lately. When I was a child, people thought I was terribly "grown up" for one so young. Ironically, now that I am supposed to be an adult, I realize how little I understand about what being "grown up" really means!

What is newly crystallizing for me now is learning how to live into a role.

Richard M. has been writing about integrity. My discussion connects with his.

I used to think that integrity meant being fully my one true self in every situation: being human first of all, and being "professor" or "chair" or other roles only secondarily.

And while I still agree in a way, something is shifting in my understanding of how to live true to my roles with integrity. Our identity, after all, is complex. The roles we take on do change us.

My first breakthrough was to realize that the way people react to me is often not about me at all but about my role. For example, I learned fairly quickly that the sullen students who sit in the back of the classroom with arms folded and hats pulled down hiding their eyes are not responding to me-as-me, but are acting out their habituated response to "teacher." A lifetime of experience has shaped their response. The fact that they behave this way on the very first day of class is proof that it has nothing to do with me at all. It reflects something of their current way of being in the world, in relationship to anyone who happens to occupy this role.

This was quite a powerful and liberating thing for me to realize, as it eased my own self-consciousness, and I realized that I could creatively intervene, for example, by deliberately disrupting their preconceptions about "teacher." This is not about me-as-me. Therefore, surprising ways I could let out non-teacher aspects of myself, helping them to see that I am an individual and not just another version of that same Teacher they have had over and over again, could catch them by surprise and could change their own habituated responses, bringing us into more authentic relationship.

If I had not realized this when I did, I probably would not have lasted as a teacher.

My second breakthrough is to realize that not only is it sometimes impossible for me to bring my fuller human self into a role, it can actually be inappropriate to do so. Often integrity's call is to be your best teacher-self and to hold back from trying to be any more or anything else than this.

To give a specific example: my full human self tends to want people to like me. But sometimes in my role as teacher, I have to let people not like me. I have to let our relationship be stressed when my students encounter the inherent discomfort of aspects of learning. I have to trust them to come to terms with this, and I have to realize that the best thing I can do is hold strong in the meantime. Sometimes they come to understand and are grateful in the long run. But other times they never do -- at least not that I ever see. But even so, I must hold strong.

It is especially in my role as chair of my department that I most frequently find myself called upon to have to make and uphold decisions that are not only hard on me, but that I realize I absolutely cannot explain to those I may most want to console. An earlier version of myself would have been torn apart by this sort of thing. I would have wanted to quit. I would have interpreted it as a violation of my own integrity.

But I'm in a new place. I see clearly the greater good that is being accomplished, and while I am sorry for the disappointment that others may feel, I also do trust that way will open for them -- that their disappointment now is part of their journey that is theirs to process and deal with. I too have been disappointed similarly in the past, but found new ways forward. In this, I find that where I am now is strangely redemptive for me. Now that I see what it is like on "the other side," I can forgive those who disappointed me in the past. I see now that from their perspectives, making the decisions that adversely affected me was probably hard, but they saw things that I didn't see, that I couldn't see back then. This does not mean that all such decisions are right. The truth is, we are never really sure. But we do the best we can; and, anyway, disappointment is inevitable for everyone.

I also am learning that there are times when, because of my role, I have to be the one to absorb the outrage or misunderstandings. There are times where it all stops with me. There is nothing more that I can say or do, and so it is up to me to be the target of anger. Sometimes I have to take this on to protect others.

I used to worry that "developing a thick skin" meant becoming less sensitive. To lose my sensitivity felt like another betrayal of my integrity.

Now I see that "developing a thick skin" does not have to mean that at all. Now I take "developing a thick skin" to mean "accepting my role." The "thick skin" is the role. The way I can stand strong in the face of anger or disappointment is to realize that the anger or disappointment are not, in fact, directed to me the person, but instead are directed to the role I uphold. And so that role becomes a lightning rod, letting the negative energy discharge into the ground without damaging me.

Sometimes I even realize that their disappointment and anger are justified. "Yes," I tell myself. "Teacher" or "Chair has had to take this stand in this situation, and it is unfortunate." As the lightning rod that is my role channels the energy into the ground, I send it forth with a prayer, because that ground is God, and in God there is redemptive power. I do not know when or where the healing of that redemptive power will come; I do not know if I will have the privilege of witnessing that moment, but I know that it is there.

In these ways, I am finding my way to the deeper trust I have been seeking.

I enter this new world with some trepidation. The world of roles is a world of power. Roles operate the way they do because of their connection to the socially-constructed institutions that structure and govern our communally shared lives. In our roles, our selves do become constricted and narrowed; ironically, it is the constriction that gives these roles power. The constriction is the focus that hones efficacy to precision and power.

If we wear our roles like shells detached from the core of our true selves, we become vulnerable to fragmenting ourselves -- the opposite of integrity, and the root of unethical behavior: the root of acting out our roles irresponsibly. And so all that I have described must be taken carefully and with utmost humility. We must make our decisions as carefully as we can. We must constantly question and refine the ideals we try to uphold in our roles. We must make sure that the decisions we make do not in fact violate the ethics of our whole and complete selves, or do damage to our compassion. We must have the humility to realize that, even in doing the best that we can, we might be getting it wrong: and yet, we must stand strong in our decisions anyway, unless we genuinely become convinced that we were wrong. Then we must apologize and change course.

All of this is important for ourselves as well as for the sake of those whom our decisions impact. Like I said before, our roles do change us over time. The more we do to keep our complex identities integrated, the more likely it is that the effect of our roles on the deepest core of our being is positive instead of negative. If we start to sense that the ideals we are supposed to uphold in our roles are not consistent with the ideals that matter to our truest, deepest selves, then it is imperative to question whether we are right to stay in those roles.

But if the ideals of a given role harmonize with the ideals that matter most to our core selves, then the journey of living into that role becomes an important part of our general spiritual journey.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More Snow!

The weather got warmer for a few days, and even though we had a lot of snow on the ground, much of it melted. We were down to nothing left but the Piles.

In snow country, the Piles that form along the edges of roads and the sides of parking lots can become small mountains. It takes them weeks and weeks to melt. They are packed and icy and laced with sand. When they finally do melt, smaller piles of road sand are left over. The strips of grass alongside roads, sidewalks, and parking lots need special loving attention each spring.

Now it is snowing again. We have what looks like another five or so inches. We may get up to seven. Just as the sidewalks became clear of ice, making me think that it is time to start up my running program again, this new snowfall comes, and I see that my snow shoveling training period is not yet over for the season. This snow will offer quite a workout -- wet and heavy, no doubt.

I should have known. After all, it's still only March. Sometimes March is the snowiest month. Silly of me to think that just because there was some melting, that would be it! We could very well have a couple more significant snowfalls before spring really comes.

But I like the clean whiteness of a fresh snowfall! Briefly, all of the accumulated road sand is covered over again. Briefly, tales of local wildlife will be revealed in the new crisp footprints across the sparkling blanket of snow. Briefly, we will have that special kind of brightness both by day and by night that comes from the pervasive background of whiteness over the land.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Strangely enough, I think I'm finally becoming a grown-up.

It has taken me much longer than I'd like to admit.

I started off this crazily busy semester half in depressive despair, and half in angry rebellion.

Now I've become the calm center of a storm of busyness raging around me. I work long hours and tame crisis after crisis. Nothing is easy. Everything unfolds into unusual complexity. But I take it all in stride. It cannot surprise me or shake me anymore. This is just how it is, I realize with a not unhappy resignation.

I'm good at this, and I'm glad to see that, because it is going to help me through.

But this is not how I want my life always to be.

For now, I will enjoy the kind of satisfaction that handling difficulties well can bring. I watch what all of this does to me, and I am amazed. I am after all becoming stronger and wiser. And in seeing this happen, I am grateful all over again for what it reveals: the redemptive power of God's love. Yes, redemption is real. God is real.

Even my own depression and rebellion were nothing to match this. Massive as they felt at the time, they did not have the power to undermine the good work I was capable of doing. Life's intensity blasted off the chaff of my soul, revealing a strength I did not even know I had. The source of this strength is not me in myself. It is rooted in the deepest ground of my being, which is goodness, which is God, which is love.