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The Surprising Impetus behind the Creation of the Myers-Briggs® Type Indicator (MBTI) – World Peace

Amidst the media’s relentless criticism of the MBTI®, it’s time to shed light on the instrument’s positive aspects and modest beginnings. (For those who hold only negative views about Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers, I invite you to explore a different perspective.)

As we reflect on the purpose behind creating the assessment, let’s remember the recent Memorial Day weekend. The cost of war is undeniably high and stems from the profound divisions within our collective. It’s a reality we all share that seems to be escalating as we find ourselves in a world of increasing polarization. This is not a new phenomenon, but when we are in the middle of a world with such division, global wars, and so many inexplicable horrors, experiencing it in so many ways, it feels like it is worse than it has ever been. The ‘it’ is deep division and hate and a lack of harmony and love in the world.

Jung said that it may take hundreds of years for man to realize, on a collective level, that he is the problem. So, we must move the collective psychic consciousness forward, or our fate as humanity will be sealed. This is where Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers’ dream comes in- the dream of world peace.

Briggs and Myers experienced this distress following the US entry into World War II.  As students of human behavior, they were determined to do something to help people resolve conflict rather than fight each other. Thus, the mother-daughter team set out on a journey to construct a paper-and-pencil assessment that would help people gain access to finding their Psychological Type as outlined by C.G. Jung. They chose to work with Jungian theory because they thought it to be the best model for understanding human nature that they had come across.

From that point forward, Isabel Myers embarked on a relentless journey to create an instrument that would lead us to an ever-deepening understanding of ourselves and each other. Her dedication and perseverance gave us a great gift by challenging the prevailing notion in psychology that we were all mere deviations from “normal.” The Indicator and her later publication of Gifts Differing continue to make a mark on the world.

How can the MBTI potentially pave the way for world peace? Let’s explore this intriguing possibility. Here are my thoughts.

On a simple level, it boils down to ‘projection’ (in this case, I am speaking mainly of projection arising from Type differences). Projection is a part of the human condition and something of which we are mostly unaware. It occurs when we take the qualities in ourselves that we have disowned and are unconscious of (our shadow) and assign them to another person. In the case of negative projection–what we embody but want to suppress–we attribute to others; we move whatever is causing us the problem outward instead of looking inward to bring it to light. Unconsciously, we experience cognitive dissonance (the feeling of uncomfortable tension from holding two conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time); unable to resolve the internal issue, we blame, reject, judge, degrade, accuse, or otherwise malign the “other” in the situation.

Let’s take a simple example. The other day, I asked my husband what he may have learned about Type and living with someone that is his opposite (who is also Type obsessed) in many ways. He stated, “I’ve have learned that some people are really not being rude, or discounting me or my opinion when they interrupt me; they prefer Extraversion (I took the liberty to wordsmith that!); it’s their way of adding to the conversation. I used to think they were not only rude, but arrogant and self-promoting–they thought their ideas were the best so they would just steamroll right over me.”

As practitioners, this is what we experience in our workshops. Sensing Types think Intuitive Types are “out there”, flighty, a bit nutty or unrealistic. Intuitive types see Sensing Types as uncreative, slow, and boring. Thinking types describe Feeling Types as being too emotional, too invested in people, wishy-washy, insincere, and touchy-feely, and Feeling Types see thinking types as cold, harsh, tough, and unfeeling. As my friend and colleague Danielle Poirier once said, her projections around the Judging preference were especially problematic and, “… the one imposing the deadline is, of course…the evil warlord, the despot, the fascist.”!

So you see, in Myers-Briggs/Jungian terminology, we project negative words, thoughts and images onto anyone who presents an opposite preference; anyone with whom we are not naturally comfortable. The mental process they are using conflicts with our identity – or with who we think we are and simultaneously with whom we think (mistakenly) the other person is.  We experience the process that the person is using as “negative” and define the person as so; it’s easier than having to wrestle with that inside of ourselves! When we experience someone with the same preferences as we have, we tend to affirm them; when someone’s preferences are opposite to ours, there is the potential to project.

Of course this is just a tiny piece of the collective puzzle. But we shouldn’t discount the tremendous contribution that Briggs and Myers gave to the world; a tool that helps us to see which mental processes lie in our consciousness (as represented in our four-letter Type Code) and what lies below the surface. It takes self-awareness and deep self-knowledge for each of us to remove our projections from others, thus reversing the process.

Without that awareness, we don’t stand much chance of resolving differences or changing our negative thoughts about others; our conflicts remain unresolved, even if they appear to be resolved on the outside. Those thoughts we have of the other surface again and again, and we have to challenge those thoughts to see the real person in front of us.

Understanding our Type and how others are different from us, fosters conflict resolution.

World peace?

We can only work on ourselves, pull back our projections, and of course contribute to heal the collective as best as we can. One person at a time.


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