As pointed out in a book review of “The Cult of Personality Testing: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves“, personality tests have their place in helping people to understand their individual psyches and personality traits better, but the tests have been misused by some corporations to manipulate consumers. Also, no matter how thorough and well developed a personality test, it has its own limitations, given that every human being is multidimensional and complex, so the test results may at best serve as general guidelines rather than concrete methods to pigeonhole people. We can follow our intuition and go with what resonates with our heart, as we need not take wholesale what we have read.
I have also checked out the preview of the above-mentioned book, and it’s interesting to see that the Myers-Briggs personality test was designed by an American housewife, who was hoping to achieve world peace “or at least make everyone a little nicer”. The book went on to describe the influence of a personality test on Walt Whitman, and the positive assessment of his personality test given by someone caused him to draw assurance and inspiration, and later he would go on to write songs and poems. Perhaps in a way, these are self-fulfilling prophecies when people choose to believe what they have been told. For example, Walt Whitman was told that he had his own opinions and thought for himself, and “had a good command of language especially if excited”. It is perhaps not surprising that today, Walt Whitman was well known for his insightful quotes such as “Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.” I agree with his quote because while we can be open to various schools of thought and philosophies, we can choose to accept those that build us up and reject those that put us down.
As noted by the book, “Human beings have long looked for signs of order in the unruly variety of our own natures. Today this need for coherence is met largely by theories about personality – as measured, usually, by personality tests.” (page 4) It ties in with what I learnt recently about Jung psychology and the three levels of consciousness as well as “Life of Pi” which explores how symbolism is used by people to define or articulate or make sense of the reality each of them perceives. To me, language, theories, personality tests, etc are only tools or instruments, which are inherently limited and imperfect, meant to serve as guides or signposts, and they are not the destinations. It is only when people start to religionalise and institutionalise these tools as a “one-size-fits-all solution” to neatly categorise and define people that pose the problem of dogmatism and legalism.
Also, all myths, traditions, theories, models of psychology, etc contain some grains of truth, but not the whole truth, so it is good to feed on a diverse range of foods, symbolically speaking, to get the best and most out of the various nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. At the same time, we can be discerning and selective to avoid food allergies, sensitivities, harmful chemicals, contaminated foods, etc as we read and evaluate the information on the internet, in books, etc.
So, ultimately, I see personality tests as being descriptive, not meant to be prescriptive. As observed by the book, it was found that “as many as three-quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again” – I believe it is because each person is ever evolving. Over time, we may react differently to situations as we continue to grow and evolve in our mindset, and we use different approaches in different contexts when dealing with different people and handling different issues. So there may be no fixed categories of when and whether we are introverted or extroverted, for example. Sometimes a person may prefer to socialise more, sometimes the same person may prefer silence and solitude – it depends on many variables in real life.
I am also reminded of this insightful video by Ralph Smart who shared about how we are all multidimensional beings that defy any fixed labels.
- For Personality Test Junkies (christinehammondcounseling.wordpress.com)
- Accepting Who YOU Are as a Writer (hugs-and-chocolate.com)
- Living in a world of symbolism
- Workplace Personality Tests: Total Waste (forbes.com)