Over time – it might be argued – the most popular use of the word has come to refer to desirable and positive attributes and qualities of social skill and competence: hence the perceived need for “personality training” or the unflattering reference to someone who is perceived to possess “little or nothing by way of personality”. Common reference has also often been made to some overarching and characterizing quality believed to be possessed by an individual, which is then used to define him/her; e.g. a “gentle and kind personality”, a “belligerent and aggressive personality”, a “strong” or a “weak personality”. Nor have many such understandings and interpretations of what the term personality now connotes, solely been to do with sterile preoccupation or mere academic interest. This much is evident in the manner in which almost each and every one of them attaches to or clusters around some form or other of psychotherapy. Much of this (some of it undeniably more successful in its application than others) has proved to be extremely useful in channelling the skills of therapists as they attempt to bring whatever form of relief and necessary adjustment is desirable to their clients and patients.
The history of the study of personality then is simply littered with attempted definitions and theories, some of which have stuck and have been in vogue for a long time; others which have been swiftly abandoned. The point of this blog is by no means to recount or review them; any more than it represents an attempt to provide a kind of ‘potted’ history of the multiple theories of personality which have continued to be propounded unabated, increasingly so over the early and middle part of the 20th century. If anything, rather is it an attempt to move us nearer to a realisation of Claude Bernard’s contention that “scientific concepts are not right or wrong: they are either useful or useless”.
What then is useful within the context of these blogs is that the recognition of speculative or informed views and opinions about personality – be they 4000 years or 4 days old – tell us something about man’s corporate and unique nature and status in creation and what he is (note the continuity implied) moving toward and being fashioned for. In one key sense then we can regard personality as the great frontier. Especially over the last and early part of the present century, man has achieved and acquired so much. He now controls his environment in ways once undreamt of. He controls vast resources of energy drawn from the natural world. His hugely enhanced knowledge and conquest of adversaries – be they beasts or plagues or disease-producing micro organisms – is the stuff of legends. His ability to travel across (and even under) the seas, across land, in the air and into space, all in relative safety, comfort and at high speed, is commonplace. The ability to propel words and images to any part of the globe at the mere touch of a button is well known even to “single years” computer literate children. It is of course true that there remains what we sometimes disdainfully refer to as “the third world problem”. Yet we all know in our hearts that this failure on man’s part in this regard has every bit as much and more to do with his will, desire and even common and basic interest – or politics (which not infrequently amounts to very much the same thing) – every bit as much as it has to do with resources and ability and other forms of readily available potential).
The key to man’s survival and relative prosperity is very much an open secret. It has been, is and will continue to be his power to accommodate and to adapt. The life that man has lived – from the time that the first homo sapiens were caused to set forward upon the earth – has been ever changing. So far, man’s capacity to take every aspect of this change on board and to adapt accordingly, has brought him through. Now, the challenge and the need to change is hardly likely to become less real or demanding than it has ever been. But – in part at least – it is a need to look more penetratively both outward and inward. Man has known for some time about what he considers himself and other individuals to be made up of; i.e. structures, functions and systems; he has studied and is beginning, now more and more, to harness the various subordinate processes of language skills, perception, emotion, motivation and cognition: he has faced and is facing – however imperfectly and at times unproductively – the problems caused by ideological schisms, disputes and wars between factions and nations. He has attempted to look over and has (for the time being at least) drawn back from the precipice of nuclear conflict. Yet all of this and much more besides only serves to further define and clarify the question: “who are we?” and even more so, “who am I?” And “for what/whom – in terms of reason, purpose and destiny, are we/am I intended?”
Just as the sameness, e.g. body shape/construction, the organs of the body, the similarity of our brains, of biological and of our neurological profiles etc. demonstrate a clear purpose and intent, so does our uniqueness. It is as if, in personality (which for purposes of analysis and comparative study we identify and categorize, e.g. “introversion”, “extraversion” etc.) our focus is being relentlessly drawn toward and through this ‘doorway to the spirit’, by means of which we become increasingly aware of those defining entities and aspects of mind, i.e. the conscious and the unconscious. We do so very clearly possess such enormous potential for continuing evolution and growth, both in the shared and in the individual sense, but whither does it lead? So, let us pause to explore in greater detail this ‘doorway’ and essential thoroughfare to the spirit, i.e. the conscious and unconscious mind. (C) SB.