Is There One “Best” Type of Temperament? or Tendency?

Photo of number 4 painting on a brick wall

Temperament does not predestine one man to sanctity and another to reprobation. All temperaments can serve as the material for ruin or for salvation…It does not matter how poor or how difficult a temperament we may be endowed with. If we make good use of what we have, if we make it serve our good desires, we can do better than another who merely serves his temperament instead of making it serve him.

–Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

This passage from Merton caught my attention, because of my Four Tendencies framework for personality.

In that framework, I divide all of humanity into four types: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel. (Want to find out what you are? The Quiz is here. Almost 500,000 people have taken it.)

People often ask me questions like, “What’s the best Tendency?” “Which Tendency tends to be the most successful?” “Which Tendency has the happiest people?”

And I always answer, “There’s no best Tendency.  Each Tendency includes people who are happy and unhappy, and successful and unsuccessful. What matters is that each of us harnesses the strengths of our Tendency and shores up the weaknesses, so we can have the life we want.”

Which is what Merton is talking about: “If we make good use of what we have, if we make it serve our good desires, we can do better than another who merely serves his temperament instead of making it serve him.”

Merton was a Rebel, by the way. In the book that I’m writing about the Four Tendencies,  I discuss his Rebeldom. It’s fascinating. A Trappist monk, and a Rebel. It’s not as surprising as you might expect.

(One of the great pleasures of my life is to pursue my minor obsessions. Some of these minor obsessions include color, the sense of smell, pain, and also Thomas Merton. I’ve read a lot about Thomas Merton.)

Do you feel that you’re able to make good use of your temperament? It’s a great challenge–maybe the greatest challenge of our lives.

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