Personality Schema

Voice Card  -  Volume 20  -  Larry Card Number 6  -  Sat, Apr 27, 1991 7:31 PM

This is ONE OF 2 responses to VC 19 John 11 ("Defining the Ineffable")...

I think your idea of personality being a meta-behavior has some merit, John. But I think we leave ourselves open for trouble if we begin to talk about personality as a behavior or a set of behaviors. It needs to be meta-something else.

I think personality, like our belief system, is a structure that is developed from our experiences in this world. It is from these structures that we hang our behaviors - in other words our behavior is guided by these structures.

But these structures can and do change. They change in response to outside stimuli, to our own behaviors, and to changes in the other structures that help guide our behavior.

We attempt to understand incoming information (stimuli) in the context of these structures (our personality, belief systems etc.). As long as the incoming information is not in conflict with our already established structures, nothing changes - any other words, our personality remains relatively stable.

But when we encounter information that is conflict with one of our structures, some sort of resolution is necessary. We can resolve the issue by assimilating the information (i.e., changing it so that it fits our structure) or by accomodating it (i.e., change our structure to fit the information). It is when we start to accomodate the external stimuli that personality begins to change.

This is why I believe that individual A whose life consists of going to work in the factory, coming home to TV and beer, and going to bed to get ready for the next day of doing the same thing tends to fall in what we have previously described as a personality "rut". Most external stimuli in his or her life fit very well with the personality structure (schema) and no conflict exists to be resolve.

On the other hand, individual B who travels broadly, reads widely, interacts with a variety of people etc. is much more likely to encounter exteral stimuli that are in conflict with his or her structures. Thus resolution is necessary and the potential for change exists.

What I meant by quality (in my previous card) is that I am not prepared to say whether individual A or B leads a better life, a more fullfilling live, etc. I am not even prepared to say that individual B is growing more than individual A. What I am saying is that individual B is probably changing more than individual A.

You asked a lot of questions in your previous card, John. I'm just going to answer one of those questions, because I think the answer can probably apply to many of the other questions.

You said that if someone laughs at different things than she did ten years ago, but laughs in the same "way", you believe that her personality is the same while Drury and I might conclude that it has changed. I wouldn't conclude anything about personality from that example. What you are describing is a behavior that is a function of any number of structures (personality, beliefs, values, knowledge, etc.).

What about a definition of personality. I don't know specifically. Personality is one of those terms I use frequently without quite knowing what I mean by it. What I believe about personality is that it is one of many structures or systems or schemas that we use to guide our behavior. I believe that these structures are interrelated -in other words, our personality structure shares some of the same components as our emotionality structure and our value structure and our intellectual structure and any number of other structures. Perhaps personality is even some meta-structure that controls the others. I'm not sure.

In summary, I strongly believe that we are not hardwired with fixed personality. Personality develops in response to our experiences. As long as our experiences keep changing, the potential for personality change exists.