Monday, September 21, 2015

5w6: We're Here, We're Repressed, and We Don't Wanna Talk About It!

A few months ago I was introduced to the Enneagram, a personality test with a lot of interesting things to say, with a touch of new age woo mixed in just for fun.  As with all of these tests, some of it is spot on, some of it isn't, but there were parts that put words to aspects of my personality I hadn't had words for.  For that, I'm abundantly appreciative.

Per the Enneagram, I'm blessed or cursed to be a type 5, sub-titled the Investigator, or Observer.  The website sums it up this way:

We have named personality type Five The Investigator because, more than any other type, Fives want to find out why things are the way they are. They want to understand how the world works, whether it is the cosmos, the microscopic world, the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdoms—or the inner world of their imaginations. They are always searching, asking questions, and delving into things in depth. They do not accept received opinions and doctrines, feeling a strong need to test the truth of most assumptions for themselves.

That last sentence sounds noble when it's phrased that way, but it's not necessarily a positive personality trait.  The way it presents in me is that almost everything that goes into my brain gets filtered through a series of questions: "What's this person's motive?  Who are they trying to persuade?  If nobody that's listening is likely to disagree, why are they saying it?  Why is everything mindless signaling with no authentic discussion?  Am I just signaling? I think I hate my in-group."

This kind of filter makes it REALLY hard to be a joiner.  Because everything goes through the filter, I tend to summon objectivity in times when it's damaging to me and others.  Since my brain examines things 50 different ways all at once, I'll find a piece of what someone has said that isn't true, or isn't entirely honest, and I'm not always good at keeping that realization to myself.  For example, I'm a reluctantly pro-choice person.  But the way most like-minded people discuss the issue is so frustrating!  My options are usually to be the asshole that disagrees with everyone, nit-picking trivial points until everyone wishes they'd never brought it up, or to shut up and repress it. 90% of the time, I go with the latter.  

Repression is probably the area where the Enneagram has been most helpful.  Once the type 5 is separated into 2 categories, the description looks like this:

The 6 wing brings an orientation to detail and technical knowledge, along with the tendency to think in logical sequence. Especially intellectual, far more analytical than Fives with a 4 wing. Can be loyal friends, offering strong behind-the-scenes support. Kind, patient teachers, skillful experts. May have a sense of mission and work hard. Sometimes project an aura of sensitive nerdiness and have clumsy social skills. When defensive, they can be unnerved by the expectations of others. May like people more but avoid them more. Especially sensitive to social indebtedness. Could have trouble saying "thank you." Fear of taking action, develop "information addiction" instead. Ask lots of questions but don't get around to the decision at hand. When more entranced, they develop a suspicious scrutiny of other people's motives but can also be blind followers. Misanthropic and Scrooge-like when defensive. More able to keep their feelings cut off in a constant way. Can be cold, skeptical, ironic, and disassociated. A Five's 6 wing can be phobic or counterphobic. Counterphobic 6 wing brings courage and antiauthoritarian attitudes. When defensive they may mock authority, or angrily tell others off. Tend to "push the envelope," experiment, find what the limits are.

The last year has been rough.  Most of my life has been fairly free of strong emotion.  It's just how I've always been.  The highs aren't that high, and the lows aren't that low.  For whatever reason, I've become a much more emotional person, and it's the worst!  Some of the emotions are recent and identifiable.  "That awful thing happened, and now I'm sad."  Easy enough to identify.  Some of the emotions are decades old, and I had no idea they existed.  For example, I've been getting back into disc golf again, and watching YouTube videos of various tournaments trying to pick up mechanics and habits I can emulate. Putting those into action on the course, I've gotten a lot better really quickly.  I had the best round of my life over the weekend, and on the way home I was able to identify an emotion that's about 20 years old.  

As a kid, almost everything came easy to me.  I was one of the top picks on the playground for just about any sport, and won various awards in little league.  My formative years produced a healthy confidence that has served me well my whole life.  But in 8th grade, my natural abilities succumbed to the earned-through-practice abilities of others, and I was no longer king of the ball field.  Until this weekend it had never occurred to me that losing my status as athletic phenom had caused any kind of pain.  I just moved onto other things like choir and youth group, preferring to stick with things I could excel at.  But playing that round of disc golf, and playing it well, brought back feelings of pride I hadn't felt since I was 14, and with that, the feelings of loss that never surfaced all those years ago.  How strange it is to find a mystery inside your own head.

A writer I enjoy developed what he calls the typical mind fallacy, wherein people tend to project their own mental processes onto others, then judge others' actions based on how they think they themselves would have handled the situation.  Becoming aware of my own feelings could be a great way to break out of the typical mind fallacy.  Some of you wonderful people have the ability to recognize and deal with your feelings in real time!  Crazy!  My task to is to remember that next time I want to roll my eyes because someone freaks out over something little.  Yours is to forgive me if I take a year to get over something that seems little to you.  It's likely that even the smallest emotion looks like a kraken to me.  And I don't have any experience fighting krakens. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Herding Cats

My empathy skills are not very good, but I think I have enough of it to say this: being a church elder is really hard. Being a Quaker church elder is even harder.

I imagine a leadership role in Quakerism is a bit like herding cats.  Quakers tend to be ex-something else.  Some find Quakerism as an escape from an oppressive conservative tradition.  Some find value in it as a more ritualized form of Unitarianism.  Still others come into it entirely ignorant of what Quakerism is, but insist that their own ideas fit within Quakerism just fine, thank you very much (this is me).  Like I said - cats.  A cornucopia of chaos.

Liberal Quakers are so leery of anyone having religious power, that elders become little more than bookkeepers with a title.  Evangelical Quakers tend to go farther.  Elders volunteer to organize and lead meetings, help people deal with spiritual crises, and resolve internal conflicts.  When outside groups want to blame the pastor for decisions made by the whole church, elders are there to take the proverbial bullet.

Sometimes, conflicts arise that don't have easy answers.  Or any answers.  Elders can be presented with complaints from one person against another, and as an elder, sometimes there isn't a right thing to say.  From the congregation floor, it's easy to pick a side and lob bombs.  Elders don't have that luxury.  Their job is to look after and care for everyone, even the person on the "wrong side."  Sometimes this means taking criticism that isn't theirs, even if the criticism could be nullified with a few simple sentences.  Because to pacify one person often means casting someone else in a bad light, and an elder doesn't do that.  They can't.  And that's hard.

Recently I watched an elder walk an amazing tightrope.  While being kicked out of the broader religious organization, this elder defended the elders of the broader group.  She did it politely, but her point was strong; These elders have been handed an impossible task.  They made a choice.  I don't like their choice, but they had to make a choice, and they did.  They probably wish the choice had never been presented to them.  But as elders, impossible choices come with the title.  The conflict begins with the bomb thrower, not the defense system.

In my recent difficulties with church, the elders had a hard situation presented to them that they didn't ask for.  I liken it to a parent with 30 kids being confronted by one child complaining about another child. The parent may feel it most prudent to approach the complainee with the complaint, and see if the parent can resolve it as an intermediary. Another parent might have said, "don't make me the referee, talk to your brother directly."  Either choice makes sense.  And if you haven't been confronted with that situation before, and it hadn't occurred to you that it was even possible, it's hard to place much blame on the parent no matter which decision is made.  I certainly don't.

Blame is not a word I like very much.  In the internet era, we seem to feel like if we can strongly connect the out-group with enough blame, we can absolve our own responsibilities for things that go wrong.  Personal relationships, including church relationships, should be an area where we don't look for blame, even if we can find it.  And what good does finding  blame do for us?  Does it solve the problem?  Does it heal wounds?

I've discovered recently that I process things via images.  Some people think in sentences, I think in pictures.  For awhile, I envisioned my future a bit like a hallway.  Certain things were set in place, and were likely to be there for a long, long time.  Now in my mind, my future is an open plain.  There's not a lot built up on the horizon.  Options are open, and the city is behind me in the distance.  Out here on the plains, it's up to me to process my pains and internal conflicts.  It's up to me to decide what's healthiest and most likely to bring happiness.  Who am I?  Who do I want to be?  With whom do I want to surround myself?

My hope is that the church will ask these same questions.  Who are we?  Who do we want to be?  With whom do we want to surround ourselves?  And I hope they will do this without looking for blame for past events.