Mar 17, 2008

Real-Life Socionics: A Missionary Experience

I have said elsewhere that I believe socionics accounts for a large portion of the feelings and issues that people experience when they deal with other people on close terms (in close relationships, friendships, and work partnerships). This confidence comes from having lived for extended periods of time with dozens of people of practically every socionic type.

One experience in particular stands out as being a particularly intense "socionics incubator" -- that of spending two years as a missionary for the LDS (Mormon) church. Unfortunately, back then I knew nothing of socionics, otherwise I would have paid closer attention to certain things and gained a lot more information than I can in hindsight.

At that time, I believed that my relationships depended on my attitude and people's good will and personal effort, but my analysis in hindsight has not borne out this point of view. In no case was I able to significantly improve, much less overcome, the dynamics of poor relationships with other missionaries I had to work with. All other missionaries I knew had similar experiences, some with the better relationships grouped towards the beginning of their period of service, others -- like me -- with the better relationships towards the end. By asking around after my missionary service, I found that most former missionaries considered 1/4 to 1/3 of their mission partnerships to be "good relationships," with the rest being various shades of difficult or ho-hum.

The conditions I was in were virtually ideal for a large-scale socionics experiment:

  • Missionaries lived and worked in twos (occasionally threes) and were required to be together 24 hours a day and manage all their affairs together, including housework, planning their proselytizing activities, running meetings, and teaching lessons together. This ensured maximum contact with the other person's personality and internal makeup and minimized the effect of common interests and non-socionic factors which are very important during the initial stages of making friends.

  • Missionary "companionships" were unisex (i.e. only boys with boys) and were selected by mission leadership with almost no input from the missionaries themselves. Missionaries generally considered these choices to be inspired and so generally had an initially positive attitude towards their new partners and generally put in a good-faith effort to get along. This meant that people's expectations of their mission partnerships were generally the same. There was some "interference" in the fact that mission leadership often had an idea of what missionaries thought of each other, and this caused a slight loss of randomness in companion selection.

  • All missionaries were required to do basically the same tasks, and all positions in the leadership hierarchy were determined by mission leadership. This reduced the role of rank and power in missionary relations. However, one missionary in each pair was "senior," the other "junior" (almost always determined by length of service), which may have produced a slight bit of "interference." Also, since our mission was in Russia and 95% of the missionaries had to learn a new language, their differing degrees of language acquisition also may have affected interaction and "pecking order" to some degree. However, my experience is that these things -- while often cited by the missionaries themselves as influencing their partnerships -- actually changed little, and these were just surface factors that people could easily latch onto to explain the relationship difficulties they were having.

  • Companions generally spent from 1 to 3 months together -- a sufficient amount of time for interaction patterns to develop and solidify. My experience was that by the second or third week together the basic pattern had taken shape that would determine the rest of their time together.

  • Missionary life provided a number of objective indicators of relationship quality. For instance, when walking around missionary companions would very often inadvertently maintain a certain distance between them that corresponded to their degree of psychological comfort around each other. For some this distance was negligible (they would almost always walk side by side), while for others the distance could be 5 yards or even as much as 100 (!) yards. Another objective indicator was whether or not missionary companions studied together in the mornings as they were supposed to. I found I was able to study together on a regular basis only in the best of companionships, and that in all others I would subconsciously avoid this awkward activity.
A lot of time has passed, and I have not yet been able to figure out absolutely every companion's type, but each year brings a few more pieces of the puzzle. Here I will talk about how my interaction played out with mission companions of different types (my intertype relation with them is listed after their types).

IEI - Extinguishment

I spent my first five months with an IEI during a period when I didn't know anybody and was often listless and depressed. Part of these feelings were the result of our relationship, which I would characterize as "love-hate." On the one hand, I could air my thoughts and feelings and say what I felt around him (that's generally the effect IEIs have on people), and on the other hand, his mannerisms and "everything about him" would suddenly intensely irritate me, and I would feel like physically pushing him away from me and getting him out of my life space. This physically aggressive reaction was very bizarre for me, and I see it as him drawing out of me a complementary extraverted sensing reaction, which for me (IEE) is a source of negative energy, not positive as it is for extraverted sensing types. I likewise "forced" him into something of a introverted sensing role, and he took on most of our food-buying and cooking responsibilities.

On a less personal note, I was highly impressed with his communication abilities, especially compared to many other missionaries who seemed to entirely lack such skills. It seemed he could talk to anyone and smooth over any conflict. Despite his mild and meek nature, displays of aggression never seemed to intimidate him, even when I was totally scared. At the same time, I was constantly disappointed by the kind of people we were teaching (especially lots of Beta quadra old ladies), because I couldn't connect with any of them, and felt almost entirely cut-off from any kind of network of friends. Furthermore, something about our interaction was making it impossible to keep anything remotely like the strict schedule we were supposed to be adhering to, making me feel like a chronic rule-breaker and a "bad" missionary.

I spent two days with him once after my mission. I had the best of intentions and wanted to be friendly, upbeat, and genuinely interested, but the same love-hate pattern resurfaced almost immediately, and I left dejected about my inability to change anything.

Since then, I have been drawn to and confounded by similar qualities in other IEIs I have become friends with.

SLE - Super-Ego

I was with this person for 4.5 months during a period when we both had different administrative positions and worked in different rooms of the same office. Remarkably, we managed to limit our interaction to a bare minimum, punctuated by rowdy and awkward attempts at being friendly or jolly around each other, as well as heated arguments with raised voices and accusations. He would accuse me of subtly treating him like dirt, and I would harp on his bad attitude and lack of interest in self-improvement. Once we began shouting at each other (which is extremely bizarre for me) at the office after almost everyone had left, and another missionary had to intervene to get us to calm down.

At the time, I considered this by far my worst partnership ever, but when we met after our missions, I was amazed to feel no bitterness whatsoever toward him, only a kind of distance and respect, and sensed the same from him. We were both friendly, and I felt no emotional entanglement with him, unlike the IEI. I couldn't fathom what had been the cause of our "terrible" relationship as missionaries.

Subsequent relationships with SLEs have never been close enough to "blossom" into the same pattern, but I have noted the same awkward and rowdy friendliness that comes from each mimicking the other's behavior and speaking style and ending up jarred and worn out from overusing the Super-Ego functions.

LSE - Activation

I never lived together with an LSE companion, but I had regular long-range friendships with them (in contrast to the SLIs, who only seemed to recognize and maintain friendship if they were living with the person or shared activities with them). The friendships went like this: Something about them would make me sense they would be receptive to my personal, unconventional views on mission-related topics, and I would start to unload my accumulated insight onto them. They would listen and respond with great interest and start telling me about some of their observations and experience that supported my insight. Sometimes my choice of these people would surprise me, because they generally seemed like more involved, traditional, and go-by-the-book people (sometimes strikingly so) than I was, and yet they would find what I was saying highly interesting and useful.

Each of these friendships was more talk than action. I don't remember actually materializing anything with any of them, but it was highly therapeutic for me to be able clear my mind by laying out all my insight for other people. I think the "therapy" for them was having a context where they could talk about people and social relations around them (Super-Id topics for them).

I have found my other relations with LSEs since then to be more talk-oriented, with less joint activities than with SLIs. I have also discovered pitfalls in trying to do business projects together (each fancies himself to be the leader and makes decisions unilaterally).

SLI - Duality

I had two dual mission companions, and both periods were positive and brought me many new ideas and new projects. With each of them I could freely voice all the products of my imagination, and this would naturally lead to a desire to experiment with some of them together. With the first companion, for instance, we almost immediately began a complete housecleaning that even had a conceptual foundation (!). We renewed the proselytizing activities that had gone slack with the previous companion (the SLE) and had far more fun, but were only together for 1.5 months.

I was with the second SLI right after the first and had time to go much farther. Our joint projects included studying The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People together and an ambitious attempt at self-perfection and approaching our work from an entirely new angle. We felt that our mastery of communication and instruction had increased tremendously, but I didn't realize at the time that this improvement was contingent upon the relationship itself and would not last long without it. We also tried experiments with nutrition, exercise, and health (typical, though not universal introverted sensing areas of interest). We also began learning Ukrainian together for fun (he was a Russian-speaking Ukrainian).

Since then I have found that inventing new joint activities related to self-improvement and self-education are typical results of a dual friendship with an SLI. However, at a distance these relationships are tougher to maintain through the years than with LSEs. SLIs can be notoriously difficult to keep in touch with, and they rarely invest much time in things and people that aren't part of their lives at the moment. Perhaps it is also that the dual relationship strives for a closer distance than is possible through correspondence, while the more talk-oriented relation of activation is well-suited to letter-writing.

to be continued shortly.

Mar 14, 2008

Introverted Extratims and Extraverted Introtims

One of the challenges of socionics is figuring out how to associate levels of social extraversion with socionic extraversion and introversion. Myers-Briggs Typology has essentially incorporated social extraversion as one of its four dichotomies, but in socionics it is not so simple. While there may be some correlation between social extraversion and socionics extraversion, it is too weak to be a consistently useful typing instrument. Also, equating the two closely can lead to potentially harmful stereotypes that suggest that people "should" be behaving more or less extravertedly than they actually are.

Social extraversion itself can be a bit hard to diagnose, but is generally more apparent than socionics extraversion and introversion. A person's current mood, state of health, interest level, and feelings towards the people around him may strongly influence his level of initiative and gregariousness, so it may take some time to get an accurate impression of a person. Some people may be easily diagnosable as typical extraverts, others as typical introverts, but a large percentage of people are somewhere in the middle.

If you meet a pronounced social extravert who is always in the center of attention, always getting people together, and always making lots of noise and monopolizing situations, chances are he or she is also a socionics extravert ("extratim"). The same goes for pronounced social introverts who don't like meeting new people, prefer listening to speaking, and are wary of everything new and unfamiliar. But these are not the only types of people.

The extraverted introtim

These people tend to be socially involved and feel comfortable expressing themselves publicly without feelings of self-consciousness. They tend not to think a lot or hesitate before speaking out loud and are highly verbal. In social situations they often appear to be using an extraverted function (often their creative function, but not always), but their values and perspective come from their leading function. The difference between an extraverted introtim and an extratim is that when they are being "active" and "extraverted," introtims are not really keeping track of the world around them, but are focused on themselves, whereas extratims are following and studying their environment at the same time. Also, their attitude towards the extraverted function they are applying (especially their creative function) is more careless, as if they don't attach much importance to it and are just engaging in it for fun. When an extratim uses his or her leading function, there is a greater sense of purpose, awareness, and urgency. The extratim has the intention of actually affecting others with his leading function, whereas an introtim using his or her creative function seems to be just playing around for personal needs or enjoyment.

The introverted extratim

Many, if not most extratims do not use their leading function for social expansion in every situation they find themselves in. Some actually do, but many others are quite deliberate, observant, and socially detached. Even people with leading extraverted ethics or extraverted sensing can be like this. These extratims generally speak and act deliberately, often with a bit of hesitation and reservation. They seem less open about their intentions and always seem to be considering something in their minds. They don't have the need to air their thoughts to practically everyone they meet like more gregarious extratims, but are more selective about when to express themselves. In social situations they often appear to be using their creative function (or another introverted function), but their values and decisions come from their leading function. What makes these extratims different from introtims is that they barely respond to other people's initiative, whereas even extraverted introtims are usually receptive and supportive of others' initiative. When an introverted extratim uses his creative function (and other introverted functions), he does so "carelessly" or "for fun" -- more just to get a kick out of it (suggestive function) or because he is in the mood at the moment (creative function). When an introtim uses his leading function, there is a sense of seriousness and greater concern and carefulness about what he is saying and doing.

Compare, for instance, the playful theorizing of ILEs and SLEs with the weighty thoughts of LIIs and LSIs. Or the haphazard and situational emotionality of SEIs and IEIs with the deliberate and focused emotions of ESEs and EIEs. The situational technical solutions of SLIs and ILIs and the productivity and efficiency-based life philosophy of LIEs and LSEs. Or the playful and changeable friendliness of SEEs and IEEs with the long-term alliances and moral awareness of ESIs and EIIs.

Each function can be used to observe and think/feel as well as to act and speak, regardless of whether the function is introverted or extraverted. "Introverted" people observe and think more, while "extraverted" people act and speak more readily. Hopefully, the above descriptions will help realize how to tell apart some of the less obvious extratims and introtims without assuming that such people are acting "out of type."