2 - Tribes of Temperament
In part I we discussed the importance of finding one’s true self in order to better love our neighbors. We want to continue to build on that by discussing temperament and how humans often form groups based on shared personality traits. The book The Temperament God Gave You has been very impactful on my understanding of this topic. Art and Laraine Bennett are professional counselors who wrote this book to present a classical understanding of personality in a way which can help the spiritual lives of modern believers.
Temperament includes qualities and dispositions which are part of an individual’s personality. Things like reaction time/expression and social setting preferences are a couple types of qualities. These can be influenced by both material and immaterial factors. The Bennetts present temperament using the four classical categories of choleric (passionate), melancholic (reticent & doleful), sanguine (eager & optimistic), and phlegmatic (calm). Other modern models tend to use different terminology and make more distinctions; nevertheless, the classical model is still foundational. Temperament is not the only aspect of personality; things like gender, family of origin, and cultural norms are also influential.
Knowing one’s own general temperament is helpful for self-understanding, as well as understanding others. Human beings often surround ourselves with those that are similar to us or at least those we easily get along with. This makes sense given our primal instincts for safety and security. If you start to pay attention to personality differences in the world, you will see this type of grouping or “tribalism” all over the place. It is present in friendships, organizations, political parties, etc. In many ways it is okay and part of human nature to associate with those like us. However, these tribal tendencies become problematic when we let our emotional preferences dominate our reasoning and perception of others.
If we never associate with those who are different, we can become prejudiced against certain people. Anyone who is different can be seen as an enemy even if beneath the surface there are commonalities. We have already discussed in the previous post how all people are made in the image of God. That fact alone unites human beings more than other factors divide us. As Catholics we have a particular calling to live this Gospel message by healing divisions and creating unity in Christ. We must become aware of the legitimate diversity which God has brought about in our neighbors, because it reflects part of who He is.
This is no easy task. Anyone who has experienced conflict with other people knows how difficult this can be. Emotionally we can be greatly disturbed by those whom we view things differently than. Even more so if it is an issue close to our heart. We must try our best to not start with contempt of others, but rather with goodwill, working to see things from their perspective. This includes reflecting on their temperament and life experience. When we practice this type of subjective empathy it does not override objective truth. Truth and love go together. Therefore, both sober judgement and compassion are needed when interacting with others.
Currently, our country and world is going through trying times. For a variety of reasons, many tribes are in strong opposition to others. At least some of this appears to be related to emotional frustration and distrust between different groups. This polarization is also active within Christian communities. St. Paul reminds us our real struggle is against powers and principalities, not one another (Eph. 6). God has made us different intentionally. He wants us to reflect the diversity found in Him and all creation. The plan of God is greater than our personal preferences, and the Holy Spirit is working to gather all tribes into one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
“Because we are all image bearers, we can know God’s kingdom includes a variety of people groups – all ultimately created to reflect and worship Him.” -Trillia Newbell