A Shot in the Dark

Voice Card  -  Volume 20  -  John Card Number 6  -  Mon, Jun 10, 1991 1:03 AM

This is a response to VC 20 Drury 2 ("Never a Debater")...

Drury and Larry:

You both had a lot of interesting things to say about personality, but I am no nearer to understanding it than I was last issue. So maybe I'll just ramble a bit and see if I accidentally say something of interest.

First of all, a preface. I suspect that the reason personality is so hard to define is that, somehow, we are asking nonsensical questions. There is probably no such thing as a personality. It's just another one of those magical words that only works if you don't think about what it means. Nevertheless...

For me, a personality has several components. First, there is a general temperament, or what a medieval physician would call a "humor." This quality ranges from stoic to passionate, from icy to fiery, from slow to fast. Temperament, then, is a meta-behavior, a tendency towards either action or inaction. People on the stoic end of the scale generally prefer to observe, people on the passionate end of the scale generally prefer to participate.

Another quality, closely related to temperament, might be called "attitude." Some people seem to maintain a generally positive attitude towards other people and the universe in general. They view the universe as a basically friendly, interesting place. They are trusting and optimistic. If stoic, they are content, if passionate, they are joyful. Those people with a negative attitude, on the other hand, tend to be pessimists and view the universe as a generally hostile environment. If stoic, they are morose, if passionate, they are angry. I am willing to grant Larry that childhood environment has a lot (but not all) to do with this component.

I don't think of interests, fashion preferences, political opinions, hobbies, etc. to be part of a personality, exactly, because these seem like transitory surface aspects that may be governed or influenced by personality, but are not PART of a personality. AND YET I often associate a particular sphere of interest so closely with a given person, that the person's interests really do seem like part of her personality. Some people are into politics, some into art, some into sports, etc. and often the same KIND of people have similar interests. Thus politics or art or sports can seem like aspects of personality. "He's a politico. She's one of those artsy types."

Another quality I associate VERY closely with personality although perhaps I shouldn't, is a person's set of physical nuances and habits of movement. Each person has a set of such nuances, special ways of walking or talking that set them apart. These nuances include certain pet phrases (that may slowly change over the years), a tendency to pause at certain characteristic moments, a specific crinkling of the nose, a laugh (no two laughs are alike), a typical posture in given situations, the raising of an eyebrow, a certain lilt in the voice when excited, a mona lisa smile, etc. These nuances are very hard to put into words, and yet they are so unique, and so deeply associated with a given person, that you can often recognize a friend INSTANTLY from the sound of a cough or a subtle movement in a crowded room. In my dreams, friends often appear not as a picture but as the awareness of a single nuance. In fact I have been moved to tears by a dream in which I am hugged in precisely the way person x would hug me.

So when I say, for example, that Drury maintains a consistent "Druryness", I am in part referring to an ill-defined set of physical nuances that remain the same. Some of these extend even into her style of writing so that I can often recognize a Drury sentence, and am thus reassured that she is still the same old Drury. But are these things part of her personality? Why not? I believe that physical nuances and mental temperaments are both "styles of behavior."

So anyway, that's a START towards the definition of personality. But how do qualities like bold/shy, serious/lighthearted, sentimental/cynical, fit into personality. Can any of you suggest other dichotomies or dimensions of personality?