Suspending Judgement 

Chantilly, France

About 17 years ago, when I worked as a programmer for a software company in Ann Arbor Michigan I took the Myers Briggs test which was offered by the company. It was offered as a way of helping employees understand how they relate to their coworkers. I think the idea was to help emplyees understand that there are fundamental characteristics of one's personality which can determine how well one relates, interacts, and gets along with other people. Certain personality types work well together. Between others, there could be certain barriers which, when understood, can be overcome.

Without getting into the details of this test, I guess the most understandable part about it is its characerization of people as either introverted or extroverted. I tested strongly introverted which was no surprise to me. Although I enjoy being around friends and trusted acquaintances, I am at times able to tolerate being alone quite well. I'm often surprised that others who I would characterize as having introverted characteristics really hesitate to describe themselves as such. Perhaps its because they associate introvertedness with anti-socialness. I think one very helpful aspect of the test is its clarification that introverted does not mean anti-social. As was explained to the test takers at the time, it is often impossible to superficially distinguish introverts from extroverts. They both attend parties. It's just that when the party is over, the introverts go home and the extroverts go on to the next party.

Another measurement of Myers/Briggs is the Judging/Perceiving "dichotomy". This concept is a little more difficult to understand. I remember testing high on the judging side. I also remember being told that a high judging score does not mean that one is judgemental. But the memory of this test score remains with me today.

A less helpful aspect of the test was the fact that (and this may have no link to Myers/Briggs itself) we were given an indication of which personality types performed better in different roles. I remember that my personality type did not come out favorably in the management role which I found to be somewhat discouraging as it ran counter to my ambition to take on leadership roles within an organization. In this case I found the use of the test to come dangerously close to stereotyping and I didn't like the way that it could be used with the effect of possibly discouraging people to take certain career paths. Am I / was I being overly defensive? I still think that the idea is at least controversial.

I scored high on the judgement/perceiving dichotomy. So am I overly judgemental? Even if it is unrelated to Myers/Briggs, I have a suspicion that I can at times be overly judgemental and that when this happens it distorts my world view. I think that being overjudgemental/critical results in a lot of personal dissatisfaction and unhappiness. When I am overly judgemental, I sometimes justify it by describing myself as dedicated to excellence, or as someone who has high standards. I imagine that for those around me, I come off as being arrogant and close minded.

But as for my adult life, I would also characterize myself as someone who enjoys (selectively) seeking out new experiences and reflecting on cross cultural understanding has long been a hobby of mine. Pursuing this subject has allowed me to gain a perspective on my judgementalness. I remember reading a book on cross cultural experiences many years ago in which it was advised that the best way to avoid culture shock and adapt to a new cultural environment was to suspend judgement. This advice has stayed with me over the years and I think it has served me well. I have certainly obtained an enormous amount of personal satisfication in having successfuly lived by this rule in my life outside of the U.S.

Upon reflecting on my experiences in living and working in a foreign culture, there have been numerous times in which I used old habits and ways of thinking from my own native culture to try and interpret the meaning of events happening around me, and most often I was wrong in my interpretation. I have since learned to mistrust my first reaction to interpreting the messages I receive from people and events and to live with a certain ambiguity when understanding what is happening around me. I have also learned to better accept unexpected reactions or behavior from people without taking it personally. What a blessing this international experience has been as it has allowed me to look much more positively at the world around me.

And yet, I have not been able to transfer this experience in an enduring way to life in my own culture. When I return to the U.S. it is too easy after a certain time to fall back into old habits and to reenter a persona of "closed mindedness".

Generally, I think that Western Society values the part that critical thinking plays in society and views scepticism as healthy. I guess I would agree with this, but up until what point? I think this is one of life's questions for which there is no clear answer. Judgementalness is good in some cases and bad in others. Maybe the most important point has to do with the way we judge people and the way we respect or disrespect them. But that is a topic for another day.


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