The premise of Isabel Myers’ exercise, in Gifts Differing, is that all personality types have and can access their type opposites. Which means if ESFPs [Extravert Sensing Feeling Perceptive] habitually rely on Feeling and weighing their own values to decide, with only weak or impaired reasoning, or no thought at all, and this interferes with relationships, they can strengthen Thinking from within because they already have the ability to do so. The ability is there but undeveloped or under-developed. It’s weak not because this is a missing limb but simply because they haven’t been using it. Their INTJs [Introvert Intuition Thinking Judging] haven’t been surgically removed. They’re just neglected. Myers’ exercise is aptly named, because precisely what a little-used personality type muscle needs is exercise.
ESFPs may prefer to base the direction they take on what they feel is important to them rather than on reasoned, reflective choice if they are Perceptives with weak or impaired Judgment. They prefer the experience of having their fortunes brought to life spontaneously to having them deadened by a lifeless, colorless regimen of judging and planning. Though it’s irrational there is method in their madness. The method in ESFPs’ madness is their instinct for the light: to avoid the captivity of Judgment in service to rigid tradition, bigotry, and conformity – to the values of darkness. What makes it irrational is its reliance on spontaneity at the expense of mind, on unreliable fate to produce untroubled waters when violent rapids could lie around the bend. When survival requires thought and preparation. When reason, Judgment, and planning could make the difference between life or death.
The premise of Isabel's exercise is identical to the premise that underlies all of Western ethical philosophy: that the ability to uncover wisdom, reality, and truth through thought, reflection, and logic dwells within our own minds. The great exponent of this insight was the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, the mentor to Plato who mentored Aristotle. The “Socratic method” that famously trained generations of lawyers at Harvard simply consists of questioning our minds until they awaken. Until they’re forced to think. Until they learn how to track down the answers, the common sense, the truth that they seek simply by using their innate ability to question. To reason. Simply by making use of humanity’s greatest gifts: Free Will, mind, and its ability to think – mind that exceeds the ability of mere brains through its reach for Consciousness.
Socrates was so certain that he was right that he badgered strangers on the streets of Athens with questions until their minds yielded wisdom, comprehension, and insights they didn’t know were there. Questioning our minds is the key that unlocks the joy of discovery, so joyful that it eclipses any that can be experienced by relying mindlessly on spontaneity without Judgment. The spontaneity that Perceptives without Judgment actually seek, but make themselves unaware of, is the spontaneity of thought guided by Intuition, the Free Spirit of Inquiry, that leads us where it will. That leads us to places in our minds that are no less unexpected than what lies hidden around the bend, only now we are alert to the possibilities.
To think as Socrates taught is the greatest adventure in all of Creation, full of discovery and surprises – surprises that keep us away from danger instead of attracting it – so long as we connect our thoughts with reason. So long as they are not disconnected from Judgment and left to the captivity of mindless chance to decide our fate. The alternative to a false spontaneity that promises freedom and adventure but delivers captivity and disaster isn’t lifeless planning by a deadened mind. It’s genuine spontaneity produced by mind, that protects itself with thought and logic, that’s exercised and brought to life.
These very insights that trace back to classical philosophy aren’t the product of stale formula, the dead hand of the past. They’re the product of Love: love of mind, love of adventure, love of freedom. They come from the Free Spirit of Inquiry, of questioning that celebrates and expresses the joy of learning and growth that depends on no one and nothing but its own ability, its own strength, its own gift. It wasn’t hectoring that Socrates sought to share with others. It was passion for the joyfulness of freedom and adventure that became his lasting gift to Western civilization: the gift of thought. The gift of mind.
It is the authenticity and strength of Isabel's intuition that though we inevitably define ourselves by the personality types we prefer, it is nevertheless a choice. We have the freedom and ability to modify our choice, to expand and grow out of the categories we’ve put ourselves in. A muscle weak from lack of use is still there. Our personality types are not where we end but where we begin. Though they define us they need not confine us. We are not locked into our types. We can use them to imprison ourselves if conflict in ignorance is what we want. Or we can use them to liberate us if peace in awareness is what we want. In offering us liberation Isabel's intuition is firmly in step with spiritual psychology -- Jung and A Course in Miracles -- and with classical philosophy.
We can choose to be who we are.
To imagine otherwise is only to curse ourselves with a prophecy that fulfills itself. For we have Free Will. Accessing our personality opposites, choosing who we want to be, could be the fullest expression of it. This is freedom, not the false promise of unreliable, ambiguous chance. Not the captivity of mindlessness. This is the fun we seek from Spontaneity -- the only safe, rational fun there is.