Defining the Ineffable

Voice Card  -  Volume 19  -  John Card Number 11  -  Thu, Apr 4, 1991 7:25 PM

This is ONE OF 2 responses to VC 19 Larry 2 ("Whoa!!")...

I've just spent a few minutes reviewing the ten cards in this personality debate tree. It seems to me that Drury, Larry, and I are working off slightly different definitions of the word "personality." Hence the confusion and disagreements.

One of the earliest cards, VC 17 Drury 6, is interesting because in it Drury states that her personality has changed over the years and that she is more conservative, more caring, less often depressed, and less self-destructive. Are these aspects of personality? Or are they aspects of belief systems, knowledge bases, and/or spiritual orientations? Or is a personality and a belief system the same thing?

By conservative, Drury, I assume you don't mean politically conservative, but rather "less inclined to take risks" or something like that. I suppose we all tend to grow more cautious as our bones grow more brittle. Is this a personality change? If a person suffers from a bout of depression does that mean his or her personality has changed. Is personality the same thing as "mood"?

In several of my cards I tried to argue for personality as a "style" of behavior rather than a set of specific behaviors. This is rather vague, I admit, but I was trying to get at something like a meta-behavior, an underlying pattern that remains constant even as the surface patterns continue to shift. Thus, even though I agree with Drury that she has changed considerably over the last fifteen years, there is still a certain "Druryness" about her that is just as charming and distinctive now as it was when we were teenagers.

Drury also talked about non-changing personalites as having a fixed "world view" and argued that personality could be radically changed by severe experiences like rape or war. There is truth here, but are we all talking about the same thing? We all change over time, but what changes and what stays the same? If everything about us changed we wouldn't be "us" anymore. Maybe we're not.

In his most recent card, Larry opened several new dimensions to the definition of personality by insisting that personalities can vary in malleability, but that the "quality" of the personality was not directly tied to this scale. Thus, we could plot malleability on the x axis, say, and quality on the y axis. Larry also insists that personality change is NOT the same thing as intellectual growth. I'm inclined to agree. But if it's not intellectual growth, what is it? What other kinds of growth are there? Spiritual growth? What is THAT?

The result of all this is that Larry, Drury, and I can point to the same set of facts and draw very different conclusions. If someone laughs at different things than she did ten years ago but laughs in the same "way", (reacting to what is, in essence, the absurdity of the world with laughter rather than tears), I might conclude that her personality has not changed, but Drury and Larry would probably say that it has. Or would they?

Frankly, I'm more confused now than when we began. (Of course, given my warped personality, I regard this as a good sign.) Can anyone here propose even a tentative definition of personality?