In nature, optimizing for one attribute generally means weakening one’s abilities in another. For example, with vehicles, optimizing for speed and maneuverability in tight turns generally means reducing carrying capacity, road clearance and tolerance for rough dirt roads. A sports car is clearly different from a 4×4 pickup truck. Both are optimized for different purposes.
The same is true for the human mind. Optimizing one’s strengths for real-time situations (e.g., physical combat) is very different from optimizing for long-range pursuits that require extended periods of uninterrupted concentration (e.g., theoretical physics).
In a survival situation, it can be crucial to know one’s best strengths and likely weaknesses, both for oneself and for others in the retreat group. Also, it can be very helpful to be able to quickly size up the likely strengths and weaknesses of others that you may meet in difficult times. There is a helpful guide for this in the form of the Myers-Briggs type indicator, which is useful in knowing what sorts of personality “tools” you have for dealing with people, objects, and ideas. Some of us like crowds, while others prefer the wide-open spaces; some of us are handy with tools and crafts, while others are happiest reading books, daydreaming, or working on the computer; some of us make friends easily and entertain frequently, while others are close friends with only a few people; some of us make decisions slowly, with many revisions, while others decide quickly and rarely change their mind, once settled. All of these are ways of approaching the world, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, just like the differences between the 4×4 pickup truck and the sports car.
The Myers-Briggs type indicator is a way of zeroing in on these personality differences, and it focuses on the following characteristics:
Introvert/Extrovert: introverts are one-quarter of the population, while extroverts are three-quarters of the population. Introverts prefer time alone and become tired from excessive contact with large numbers of people, while extroverts gain energy from large crowds and lose energy from excessive solitude.
Sensing/Intuitive: sensing types are three-quarters of the population, while intuitives are one-quarter of the population. Sensing types are well-grounded in the day-to-day world, operate with common sense, and are generally focused in the present moment. Intuitive types are focused almost anywhere but the present moment, and tend to focus more on past events and possible future events.
Thinking/Feeling: thinking types are one-half of the population, and feeling types are the other half. Thinking types focus on facts, while feeling types focus on values.
Perceiving/Judging: perceiving types are one-half of the population, while judging types are the other half. Perceiving types are slow to come to a decision, and generally like to continue gathering information. Once they’ve made a decision, they’re often uncomfortable with their choice and may try to second-guess the result. Judging types are quick to come to decisions, feel uncomfortable before making their choice, and generally feel comfortable with their decision.
Each of these personality characteristics fall along a continuum, e.g., from extremely introverted to moderately introverted, to moderately extroverted, to extremely extroverted. However, most people end up on one side or the other, since these are opposite characteristics. Since there are four sets of opposites, there are 16 different Myers-Briggs types. This can be rather complicated, and so as a useful shorthand, it is helpful to know that the Myers-Briggs types can be divided into the following four groups:
- SP: sensing-perceivers, these are people who are action-oriented, very much in the moment, adapt quickly to emergencies, tolerate (and sometimes create) chaotic environments, but who often tend not to plan ahead or strategize for the long term. SPs are about 38% of the population.
- SJ: sensing-judging, these are people who are well-organized, systematic, responsible, and orderly, guardians of traditions and customs, but not usually well-adapted to chaotic or highly spontaneous events. SJ’s are about 38% of the population.
- NF: intuitive-feeling, these are the actors, storytellers, poets, religious leaders, singers, entertainers, charismatic personalities, and counselors. NF’s work primarily with feelings and sometimes have an aversion to facts. NF’s are about 12% of the population.
- NT: intuitive-thinking, these are the scientists and engineers, inventors, leaders in technical industrial pursuits, philosophers, mathematicians, and architects. NTs work primarily with facts and sometimes have an aversion to feelings. NTs are about 12% of the population.
Looking at the preceding list, you can see that each type definitely has its strengths and weaknesses. One would not send an NT out to do a hostage negotiation, for example, because they would be likely to precipitate an emotional blow-up. Likewise, an NF would not be one’s first choice for bronc-busting, police officer, or machinist, because they would be likely to accidentally injure or kill themselves or someone else. An SP would likely do a quick and haphazard job of long-range strategic planning and inventory management, leaving a lot of omissions. When seeking an entertainer to help liven up a group and boost morale, an SJ likely would not be one’s first choice.
Given that one has inherent strengths and weaknesses from these characteristics, what are some ways to use one’s strengths to advantage and compensate for the weaknesses? Here are some suggestions that may be useful:
For SPs it can be very advantageous to partner with an SJ or NT for long-term strategic planning and organization. For example, an SJ will be much more comfortable in setting up and organizing supplies and long-term food storage, ensuring that supplies are ample, remain useable, and are cycled through in sequence. An NT with some knowledge of electrical engineering can design a solar power system with adequate batteries, safety features, sufficient power for necessary equipment, potential for expansion for future needs, backup equipment, and safe and adequate cabling. An SP with the same knowledge would be more likely to cobble together an “ad hoc” system that might not fully meet present needs, safety requirements, or potential for future expansion.
An NF can help to bring harmony and cohesion to a group that might otherwise not connect with one another. Most religious leaders (pastors, preachers) as well as counselors are NFs. As negotiators, an NF can provide a finely-tuned sensibility and real-time ability to deal with difficult personalities and situations. As entertainers, NFs can help to boost the morale of a group during difficult times, providing humor, uplifting spirits, and helping to reconnect people with one another.
Each Myers-Briggs family group has its dark side, as well. An SP gone bad can be a bully, a slothful lout, or a gang member. NTs can be a criminal mastermind, the proverbial mad scientist, or creators of intellectual traps for the unwary, while NF’s can create massive dissension and malice within a group, even inciting people to murder. SJs can betray the very traditions and standards they claim to uphold, thereby creating chaos.
On the positive side, SPs at their best are courageous explorers in all facets of the physical world, extending the possible range of human beings from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains and beyond, exploring new facets of sport and physical endurance, expanding the physical limits of human beings in the universe.
Likewise, NTs at their best are expanding humanity’s knowledge and mastery of the deepest mysteries of the physical universe, advancing science and technology for the benefit of all humanity and creating new visions in mathematics and philosophy.
SJs at their best are creators and promoters of systems of organization and customs and traditions that enable everyone to work together with greatest harmony and efficiency. SJs at their best also ensure the continuity of human culture and traditions, carrying the best traditions of the past forward to the future.
NFs at their best are explorers of the true meaning of human values and human existence in the universe, explorers in the realm of human personality and the deepest levels of human communication both with other humans and with the universe at large.
In an ideal world, each of us would only face problems that are suited to our own nature. However, the universe does not respect our limitations, and we often face situations that we are ill-equipped to handle. This will likely be even more frequent during SHTF situations. How can knowledge of one’s own mental strengths and weaknesses be helpful during such times? First, one can use this knowledge to prepare in advance for areas of likely problems. If possible, it is helpful to partner with others who have complementary strengths. For example, SJs, who are great at organizing in advance of events but less handy in the actual chaos of a true emergency, may find it very helpful to partner with some SPs. Likewise, the SPs can benefit from the systematic preparedness of SJs.
Another way to use this knowledge is to make proper allowances for one’s areas of weakness. For intuitive (N) types, operating in the physical world can be a challenge. However, it can be done, and even very successfully. It just takes longer, and it requires more effort. Also, one needs to respect one’s limitations and have an adequate regard for physical safety.
Thinking types, especially NTs, run the very real risk of offending the wrong person at the wrong time. This can be very dangerous in SHTF situations. Avoiding people and living as a hermit is not always practical or possible. But even introverted NTs can develop some social skills in small-scale, safer social environments. Again, patience and persistence are necessary.
Even though most of us tend to associate with others of a like kind, there are many valuable synergies in working together. While NTs may design a new fighter plane, it is likely an SP who is the test pilot. Likewise, while it is generally SPs who actually build the plane, it will be SJs who organize the myriad details necessary to successfully construct and test the aircraft.
There can be many potential conflicts and sources of disharmony when groups of people work together on a project. Often people in the thick of things cannot truly perceive their shared interests or successfully work out solutions to conflicts as they arise. NFs can often be very helpful in this area, finding workable solutions that are palatable to all parties involved and also helping people to understand one another. Sometimes apparent conflicts arise from simple misunderstandings that grow into larger problems. NFs can be invaluable in maintaining the harmony and cohesiveness of a group, helping people to work together even in very difficult circumstances.
If you are interested in more information on the Myers-Briggs types, one helpful resource is the book Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates.
Hopefully some of the information in this article has helped to inform your awareness of yourself and those around you, creating a better understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your family, friends, and co-workers. Such knowledge can be invaluable in survival situations.