Living in ruts

Voice Card  -  Volume 17  -  John Card Number 9  -  Thu, Nov 22, 1990 1:19 AM

This is ONE OF 2 responses to Vol 17 Larry 6 ("Core personality")...


We seem to be at about 95% of total agreement. And yet I sense a faint (but familiar) strain of the nurture over nature in your comments. OH NO! NOT AGAIN!

Let us agree that there's something to this idea of a "core" personality that is more-or-less formed by the age of twenty. And I think we also both agree that this does not mean that life ends at twenty or that adults are not capable of growth and change. Certainly we all continue to learn and grow, it's just that our core personality "constrains the quantity of change and the direction that that change takes."

But what is the reason for this? I cannot buy your notion that for most people after 20 "there are few stimuli to elicit change." Look back over your last 10 or 15 years: going to grad school, learning to teach, meeting and marrying Diane, hunting for jobs, landing and mastering new jobs, buying a house, and now becoming a father. Quite a bit of stimuli, I should think! And my last 10 years are just as crowded. Are we unusual in this regard? I think not. Even the dullest of my acquaintances have managed to encounter GOBS of stimuli after turning twenty. Gobs and Gobs!

And the fact is I have changed in some fundamental ways. My priorities have shifted and some of my most cherished opinions have been modified or even discarded. I feel more jaded than I did. I feel as if I have looked at clouds from both sides now. I have scars in places that once were smooth and untroubled.

And yet there is something about me that endures, some kind of style that I cannot perceive directly, but can only glimpse as a reflection in the eyes of my friends. And your style is just as distinct and has endured for as long as I've known you. And the same is true for Paul and Stuart and Drury and every human being I've ever known.

It's like a tune that we play over and over again. As the years go by I learn to play my tune slower or faster; sometimes I jazz it up by adding little riffs and variations. But it's the same tune. And it seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with stimuli or the lack of it. I cannot change it even if I try. I can only learn to play it better.

I often wonder if I'm making any kind of "progress." Of course this depends entirely upon my definition of progress, which I change from year to year and which is, in all honesty, essentially arbitrary. And yet I do often sense a kind of ascent. I can see deeply into puzzles that baffled me only a few years ago. But at the same time, as I've observed before, I find myself going round and round in circles.

The union of these two perceptions is a helix. Yes I go round and round, but each time a little higher, and each time my view is more extended and the connections to the world of my childhood are more tenuous.

At least that's how it seems some of the time. At other times I feel as if I am wandering more or less at random through a vast labyrinth (which I often picture in my mind as the ruins of a great city). I keep finding vistas, some grand, some grimy. And more and more, as I get older, I feel a kind of deja vu. "Ah, yes, I've seen the city from this angle before. And around that corner there is a merry tavern. And beyond that hill a lonely tower." My mood changes, just as the lighting of a city changes from dawn to dusk, but the city itself grows increasingly familiar.

This is what it seems like from the inside; how my journey appears to other people I cannot truly say. But one thing more I sense: that there is a trade-off of some kind. For every gain there is a corresponding loss. With each new lesson I grow more experienced, but less young in some way.

But what am I talking about? Is there some way we can get a better grip on what a personality really is?

[Brief Pause while I add a new feature...]

Here is a little game we can play. Hold the mouse over the popup Menu button and select Random Snippet. My clever program will then select some brief snippet from a random voice card in this volume and ask you to guess who said it. Try it several times.

My question is: "How easy is it to identify the author of a random snippet?" Of course, if you've already read the card from which the snippet is pulled, you will have an unfair advantage. So it would be better to try this game before reading any of the voice cards. My hunch is that you could guess correctly most of the time even if you've never seen the snippet before.

[Incidentally, I've really grown to love this little FONARV (Feature of No Apparent Redeeming Value). It can pull up the most amusing and insightful little phrases! ]

So try it! If it turns out we CAN guess correctly most of the time, we are probably using our insights into each other's personalities. True? Even in the space of a few words, a personality shines forth in the form of pet phrases, vocabulary, sentence structure, and in the content as well (in as much as the content of a snippet will imply interests, expertise, etc.).

Where am I going with all this? Frankly, I don't have the foggiest idea. It's now about four in the morning and I was already rambling before I got this absurd Random Snippet idea. And then I spent an embarrassing amount of time calling up snippets.

I guess I'm just trying to get a better grasp of what a personality is and what changes and what doesn't. Tell me your reactions to the snippet game, everybody. Meanwhile, I'm going to try a second reply to Larry's card. Tomorrow.