I'm a person, not a type.

Hi, my name is Emma and I'm an INFJ. I’m an extroverted introvert and phlegmatic-sanguine. I'm pro-life. I love recycling. I was raised in a vegetarian, TV-less home. I studied English literature and I'm a Catholic missionary. I'm a reader and writer and runner.

Okay, great. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, you know me. Moving on.

But no, that's not me. I'm not an amalgamation of traits. However long I could extend that list of descriptors, it would never encompass who I am. And while I'm certainly not opposed to categories as such, I am opposed to reducing a person to a type. By knowing those things about me, you know—about me. My aim is not to put forth a bitter diatribe against labels, but rather to examine the great depth of the human person and our failure, in labeling, to recognize that depth.

For some reason, I've always reacted strongly against the temperaments. They often stir up in me this indignation at being pigeonholed, being placed in a neat little box and somehow summed up by two words—as if that could be enough to encapsulate anyone. I've often seen this labeling at work in conversations, when someone will say, “Oh, you're so and so temperament? Me, too!” as if they’ve just found their behavioral twin. I also take issue with the notion that we are all a certain way, that we are somehow destined (or doomed) to repeat the same patterns of behavior, to exhibit the same virtues or vices by our very wiring. But in reality, this notion can rob me of the freedom to grow in virtues I don’t now possess or can coax me into a sense of security that I won’t succumb to vices that I haven’t yet. “In a nutshell,” one site reads, “phlegmatic people are meek, submissive introverts who live to please others.” Naturally, I object to that label on principle, but also to the way it stunts the imagination. Let’s say that I was a meek, submissive, people-pleasing introvert, and that I embraced that definition. I’d fail to be courageous when facing matters of injustice. I’d avoid asserting myself at work, despite having gifts and ideas my teammates do not. I’d succumb to my inclination to just make everyone happy in all matters, regardless of my preference. And I’d always forgo making new friends, favoring the comfort of familiarity.

And that brings me to the introvert/extrovert scale. For years I considered myself an introvert, thinking, Well, only extroverts are cool! Then I studied abroad in England and spent hours walking alone in sheep pastures. Oh, no. Am I an introvert? Then I got to FOCUS summer training and spent five weeks with hundreds of other Catholic missionaries and my heart leapt, rejoicing in the chance to forge deep friendships with my peers from all over the country. Surely I’m an extrovert, right? But then I lived in New York for a year and, while I loved to people-watch from afar, I relished in the chance to spend hours riding the subway and walking the streets alone. And on it goes. After an illuminating trip to the laundromat in Krakow, I realized how often I’ve defended my selfishness with a label. Well, I’m an introvert, so I have to shut my door when I come home and not talk to my roommates for an hour. Or, I’ve already spent so much time with people today, I don’t have energy to welcome that newcomer whom no one is talking to. What a trap! I’d like to shed the label and instead look for ways to do what is good—to love others and myself well.

And then we have the quirks and hobbies and interests. But they, too, fail to sum me up. Not only that, but we can so easily jump to conclusions when learning a simple fact about another. Oh, you didn’t eat meat or watch TV growing up? You must be from one of those families. And I’m often amused by people’s reactions when I tell them I’m a Catholic missionary. Raised eyebrows and changes of topic are common. Wait! I want to say. You don’t even know me! But they move on, having assessed and assumed and summed me up.

I’m not claiming to be innocent of this, of reducing those I meet to whatever labels I have assigned to them, however unconsciously done. Or of thinking about human weakness with a deterministic mindset. But I’d like to challenge myself, and you, to look beyond that muddled surface to what’s really underneath: a unique and unrepeatable child of God, worthy of being known and loved.




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