I am currently attending a course about transforming conflict. A part of it includes reflecting on a personality analysis of myself. It’s far more sophisticated than these ‘what muppet are you?’ quizzes that seem to populate Facebook.
I’m not going to tell you the details about myself because I have a lot more to learn about myself. But it is important to know yourself and how you respond in calm and stormy conditions. If not, it’ll probably be more difficult to help others if you don’t know what sort of approach you prefer to use.
It’s difficult not to react against being categorised and labelled. We’re all unique individuals (just like everyone else) and the blend of personality, experience, ideas and skills, and much more beside, mean that there is nobody else like you on this planet that contains 7 billion of us. Does that make you feel special or scared?
You are you. It helps to understand how you think and what makes you tick but nobody else can be you. One of the things that God wants to do is to help you to be the best you you can be.
Any of you who don’t use Facebook you will have been spared the seemingly endless succession of pseudo-psychological ‘tests’ to analyse your personality.
Which sandwich are you?
Which Disney character are you?
Which Reformation leader are you?
Which Greek god are you?
Which Hobbit character are you?
and so on…
(which Latin phrase are you? Aaaargh, stop brain stop!)
When I see these come up on Facebook I have two reactions. One is, ‘Oooh, I wonder which I am’. The second (and it usually comes a split second after the first) is ‘I am not a [insert noun from the question here], I am an individual.’
Yes, I know that these are intended as a bit of fun. I get that. And yes, we must always remember that we are unique: just like everyone else. But we cannot be defined by a few inane questions that identify us most strongly with one of a range of options.
For a start the list of possible outcomes is finite so the answer is limited. The person framing the question has also framed the answer. It is like the old story about the interviewer who asked a visiting Pope whether he would be visiting any nightclubs in their city during his stay. The Pope replied, “Are there any nightclubs in your city?”
The newspaper ran the headline the next day, “Pope asks ‘Are there any nightclubs in your city?'”
You may have chosen from the options, but someone else chose the options from which you chose.
I think I also have a reaction against these sort of quiz because the answers are based on generalisations and stereotypes. That is inevitable given the nature of the quiz. They are picking up on answers and making assumptions about the answers that filter us and pigeon-hole us. If your favourite colour is blue, you can eat at least six jelly babies in a minute, you have visited more than three non-European countries and you wear glasses then (wait for it) you are Nick Lear. (If you are, by the way, I apologise profusely!)
Yes, I still know that they are just a bit of fun. I still know that we are not meant to take it seriously. But there is a trend within our culture to pigeon-hole people. There is a trend in our culture to group people together and treat them as one. I do not subscribe to any of these views but I have heard them expressed: ‘People on benefits are all lazy scroungers’; ‘Women are all over-emotional’; ‘Readers of certain newspapers are all bigoted’; ‘Christians deny science’.
None of those is true. All of them are abhorrent. But if you listen to people it won’t be long before you hear one of those, or other stereotypes that are siblings of prejudice. Racism, ageism, sexism, classism, religious discrimination, and any other prejudice is fed by generalisations and stereotypes. One of the most powerful pieces of television in recent years was when Tommy Robinson, the founder and leader of the English Defence League, agreed to spend some time with Mo Ansar, a Muslim who was campaigning to ban the EDL. As they got to know each other understanding, respect and ultimately friendship replaced fear, prejudice and hate. As a result Tommy Robinson quit the EDL. (It’s not available on iplayer at the moment but this page on the BBC website gives you a flavour).
If you enjoy the ‘what [insert noun here] are you?’ quizzes please don’t let me deter you from continuing to enjoy them. But perhaps each time you do you will also listen to these words of wisdom from Psalm 139:
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.