Friday, March 28, 2008

The gospel of shallowness

Once in a while I like to take personality tests, even though the answers usually don't come as much of a surprise. I'm a person who is driven by a need to understand things... so I guess it's natural for me to spend a lot of time trying to understand myself, and mainly how I relate with other people (because there is no shortage of things I don't understand there).

According to the Briggs-Meyers personality test (which I've taken multiple times-- you have to account for fluctuating moods, trends in maturity, and other random error in order to get an accurate reading. duh.) I'm an INTJ, or "mastermind." I think the assessment's pretty accurate-- all the profiles I've read over have some really poignant observations about, um, my people or whatever. It's a flattering title, but it's got a dark side: (my commentary in orange)

  • "Social 'niceties' often seem unnecessary and perhaps even ungenuine to the INTJ, who is always seeking to improve their substantive understanding. " In essence, small talk: I don't get it. But I've learned to mimic it so I can be easier to get along with. I can't for the life of me understand why you care what I ate for lunch. But I'll still go along with it.
  • "May have unrealistic and/or unreasonable expectations of others " I'm afraid this is true, but it mostly applies to people I feel I know pretty well. Not that that makes it okay.
  • "May see so many tangents everywhere that they can't stay focused on the bottom line or the big picture" Yet another reason I can't focus on a specific career path.
  • "Masterminds do not feel bound by established rules and procedures, and traditional authority does not impress them, nor do slogans or catchwords." Word. Slogans are lame. If something's worthwhile, it speaks for itself.

Anyway, I wanted to bring up a point about a type of shallowness I fear I give off. I think in my dumb quest for understanding and getting along with other people, that I just end up resorting to conversational brush-offs so I won't blow my cover as a closet misanthrope (or so my personality tests would have me suspect).

As in, I find myself using a lot of dismissive phrases like, "whatev," "enh," "you know," and the like to keep my conversations shallow. Why do I do that? Maybe a lot of us do, but I hate to speak for anyone else. But really-- why? Maybe I don't think that anyone honestly gives a crap about what the end of those thoughts would entail (hey, I certainly find myself glad the person I'm talking to elected not to go on some useless bunny trail... I just expect others are the same).

I mean, shallow conversations are so EASY. I can totally navigate the shallow convo formula.
A: "movie quote!"
B: "ha ha, another movie quote!"
A: "and that one time? with the thing and the guy and the place?"
B: "ha ha, yeah I know. that was hilurrious"
A: "good times."

And then, when other people have real things to say, I usually just let them talk because I like to listen. I'm interested in the things people say, because then I can understand them more. And I tend not to want to add my spin on what they're putting out there.

As a result of those things, I often find myself wondering when the last time was that I had a real conversation about something that matters. It's a little exhausting.


It's a widely-accepted scientific law that physical matter in the universe tends toward entropy (disorder). Things with higher structure or order require more energy. The easiest/most natural thing to do is tend toward a state that requires less energy, and thus less structure.

Dare I say that human interaction is shifting toward entropy? I can attribute my natural aversion to discussion and debate to all kinds of things (e.g., my personality type). But I bet it's just as much a factor of energy and efficiency. For example, after writing this I imagined myself having the supposed "useful" conversation with any number of my friends. And I already felt bored and frustrated. Just from imagining a discussion of, like, politics or something.

Did I miss a crucial stage in development where I was suppsosed to learn to be an effective conversationalist? I mean, obviously I can think and write cohesive thoughts and arguments. But for some reason when I'm with people, there's no instinct to really communicate verbally. It's times like these when I wonder if maybe a little part of me is autistic.

approves. (some people suggest Dr. House has Asperger's, and some further suggest he is an INTJ...)


Beth said...

I think I kinda see what you're saying... maybe we need a "Finer Things Club." Or we could make it the "Deeper Stuff Society." Meetings twice monthly to discuss literature, politics, religion, and current events (that don't involve reality TV). We'll learn from each other how not to suck at conversation below the surface.

Fun fact: I was going to say meetings are biweekly, but then I wasn't sure if biweekly means twice per week or once every two weeks. So I looked it up. Turns out, it can mean either (according to my possibly-flawed computer dictionary). Go figure.

DaForeigner said...

Not really sure what to say. I think that I may fall on the other spectrum of you (if that makes sense.) I like to listen to what people say as well...and can shoot-the-shit with the best of them...but when it comes to serious issues or more "important" topics I tend to fall back to my comfort zone and keep my opinions to myself. I like to see how my opinions match up to someone elses, or take what they say and apply it to my beliefs, or a variety of other things, but I don't jump out there and share my 2 cents. Granted I am leaving a comment on this blog, as well as other blogs, but there is a sense of being anonymous that makes this process a lot easier.

You seem like a pretty deep person though to begin with. I wouldn't say you missed a just view society differently then others. Maybe it was in your up bringing, maybe your friends, maybe your own personal interests...could be a number of things.

IDK Not sure if anything I just typed makes any sense. LOL. Oh well, at least I can say I tried. :)


eatpraylove said...

i want to be in your bi weekly conversational group.

let's not discuss politics though. or maybe not right at first - that scares me.

Crystal said...

It's funny that you mention not feeling compelled to communicate verbally to people. I find that I can pull it out when it will serve me well, for example, listening to the temp who worked all weekend when she spoke Friday about her friend in the hospital. She's in a bad mood today because no one helped her this weekend. Just remembering that her friend was in the hospital and asking about it helped (although I had to blow her off directly afterward, because I neither cared nor felt inclined to discuss it further). This helped me significantly because, though rude to everyone else, she was quite polite to me. So listening vs. speaking is an important consideration to make.

Entropy is avoidable where listening situations are taken seriously by people who can control output. You and I. I find it best to avoid pointless conversations; I don't even have them. "How are you?" is usually responded to with, "Great. You?" Most people say they are fine or nod. If there's something to discuss, they will open up. A few people will open up with pointless dribble. Listen and do not converse and you control the conversation by not allowing tangents to occur. "I had a horrible weekend! Yack Yack Yack, whatever whatever..." Nodding with a blank expression usually satisfies the speaker and has the added benefit of shortening the conversation. Adding to the end of their speech, "Wow, that is terrible. Hope things get better." usually ends it full stop AND they think you really care. Not to mention, you may be able to use that "wasted" five minute monologue to your advantage at some point as I did this morning.

I believe House to be an INTJ. The unwillingness to blindly respect authority figures, being drawn to a job that allows him to think creatively, his lack of concern for social protocol, his approach to people in general is very INTJ-esque. He sees everyone as a puzzle to be solved, a game to be played, even. He can design the landscape of his preference and steer people toward his overall goal with ease. Very INTJ trait.

Do you watch "The Big Bang Theory"? Sheldon is most certainly an a greater extent than House, even. He's a bit more concerned with details and specifics than House (or the majority of INTJs for that matter)which constantly surprises me. But then he's arranging his breakfast cereal by fiber content, getting fired for introducing himself to his new boss and "an actual real scientist" or praising the single decker burger at the Cheesecake Factory for its "Meat to bun to condiment ratio" and reaffirming my belief.