Temperament and Worldview

Adapted from Cultural Maturity: A Guidebook for the Future

The recognition that culturally mature perspective is systemic invites us to make detailed wheat-from-chaff distinctions. We appropriately ask not just about preferred scenarios and polar traps, but also about whether a particular aspect of complexity’s larger multiplicity, either overtly or covertly, ends up with the last word.

We can address systemic complexity in a general way with any kind of diversity. We know that a group made up only of men or only of women or only of people of one age or one ethnic/cultural background is going to be vulnerable to certain partialities, if not outright fallacies. Similarly, any inquiry that extends beyond the most specialized focus is going to lack the needed depth and complexity if it does not include voices from diverse disciplines.

But while each of these distinctions captures aspects of human difference, we greatly benefit from approaches that address systemic multiplicity more generally. A deep appreciation for temperament diversity provides a particular effective approach for making nuanced wheat from chaff distinctions.

Most any temperament framework can serve us as a place to begin. Many people find the Myers-Briggs personality typology, commonly used in business and educational settings, insightful. But it helps if we have a framework whose “pattern language” structure is specifically designed for the task. The Creative Systems Personality Typology, because it has its foundation in the creative underpinnings of human complexity, serves this purpose particularly well.

The CSPT is a detailed framework. But a quick look helps illustrate the power of temperament as a compare and contrast lens. The CSPT addresses the different ways each of us holds creative complexity. It provides a concise language for making critique that might otherwise take pages of commentary.

The Creative Function presents a generic cartography of the various ways that, at different times, we orient ourselves in experience. In a related way, the Creative Function also maps here-and-now creative differences. The CSPT proposes that temperament differences reflect the way each individual preferentially embodies different parts of this creative entirety. Temperament differences between individuals reflect the locales on the Creative Function each person knows best and tends to most value. Just as we can speak of “inspiration,” “perspiration,” and “finishing and polishing” creative stages, we can talk of people who derive their gifts (and their blindnesses) from their specific connection with these very different creative realities.

Each major temperament group is equally capable of culturally mature perspective. No personality style has a monopoly when it comes to the needed cultural wisdom, nor a leg up when it comes to acquiring culturally mature capacities. Each temperament group is also equally vulnerable to naive thinking or outright fallacies. We can use temperament differences understood in this way both to better understand each temperament’s particular contributions and to predict, and more accurately interpret, conceptual traps.

Here’s a glimpse at how the CSPT slices the temperament pie with the addition of formal Creative Systems Theory language:

The first big slice includes the various Early-Axis temperament types, people who live preferentially in more “inspiration stage” realities. They tend to be most drawn to experience that involves imagination and possibility. They often contribute as artists, as innovators in the sciences, in work with young children, or as leaders in the  “information revolution.” Think Albert Einstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, or Steve Jobs.

The second big slice (Middle-Axis temperaments) is made up of people who derive their worldview from more “perspiration stage” preferences. They are most in their element with activities that involve commitment and heart. They often contribute as teachers, as managers in business, as ministers, in athletics, in the military, or in government. Think George Washington, Mother Teresa, or Colin Powell.

The third big slice (Late-Axis termperaments) is comprised of people who view life more from “finishing and polishing” sensibilities. They tend more than other temperaments to value worldliness, intellect, style, and material success. They often contribute as entrepreneurs and business executives, in academia, as political leaders, as artists of more classical sensibility, and in entertainment and the media. Think John Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, or Walter Cronkite.

The CSPT also differentiates polar “aspects” within each broad temperament group. It describes how some people manifest more “upper pole” and others more “lower pole” sensibilities. Upper pole types tend to live more “in their heads,” and when it comes to imagination, to manifest its more visionary and spiritual aspects. Lower pole types live more in their feelings and in their bodies. The CSPT also makes more horizontal polar distinctions. It speaks of some people being more “inner” (more receptive and reflective), others being more “outer” (more expressive and action-oriented). Aspects differentiate each broad temperament group into four basic subgroups.

The result is a nuanced language for teasing apart conceptual traps, one that expands our initial three-part picture of polar fallacies into the larger Creative Function. For example, in looking at polar fallacies, I identified a variety of Unity Fallacies—those we frequently see with back-to-the-land or New Age advocates, those common with fundamentalist religious thought, and those we are more likely to find with the ideas of liberal intellectuals. These various types of Unity Fallacies have their origins respectively in more “inspiration stage” (Early-Axis), “perspiration stage” (Middle-Axis), and “finishing and polishing stage” (Late-Axis) sensibilities and are predictably most found with temperaments that live most in the analogous slices of experience.

We could tease apart a parallel sequence of temperament-related Separation Fallacies and Compromise Fallacies. And we could go further and identify more “upper,” “lower,” “inner,” and “outer” manifestations of each kind of fallacy. For example, the highly materialist Late/Upper/Outer Separation Fallacies we might find with a corporate CEO are very different from the more fanciful, Early/Upper/Outer Separation Fallacies we might encounter with a person who delights in technological-gospel imagery of the more sci-fi sort.

In an earlier footnote, I observed that people who romantically idealize earlier cultural stages do so in predictable ways. The recognition that temperament is tied to the aspects of formative process we most live in and identify with points toward how this might be so and provides us with a further compare and contrast tool. People with more “inspiration stage” (Early-Axis) temperaments are most likely to idealize “inspiration stage” times in culture; people with more “perspiration stage” (Middle-Axis) temperaments are drawn to “perspiration stage” times in culture; and people with more “finishing and polishing stage” (Late-Axis) temperaments relate more to “finishing and polishing stage” times in culture.

The CSPT can be applied to the ideas both of broad schools of thought and particular thinkers. Here are a couple of contrasting examples: British scientist Richard Dawkins has become well known for his extreme atheistic views. We can think of his ideas as just his own, but they also reflect the predictable conclusions of someone who looks at the world from a Late/Upper/Inner perspective—from the vantage of a “finishing and polishing” stage temperament of, in this case, an extreme “upper” and “inner” sort (a temperament shared with most fervent positivists and behaviorists). Ken Wilber is the most celebrated contemporary Transformational/New Paradigm philosophical thinker. His ideas often usefully present questions at the threshold of Cultural Maturity. But his answers quickly veer well to the left and commonly reduce only to elaborate Unity Fallacies. Again, we can think of his ideas as just his own. But we can also recognize them as conclusions we would predict from an Early/Upper/Inner perspective—from the vantage of an  “inspiration” stage temperament of, in this case, an even more extreme “upper” and “inner” sort. Not surprisingly, the majority of adherents to the broader “transpersonal” school of thinking he represents also have “inspiration stage” personality styles. Also not surprisingly, the same person is unlikely to be found celebrating both of these thinkers.

Temperament gains particular significance with the growing need for culturally mature leadership. To lead effectively, each of us needs to better appreciation not just our own specific piece of systemic complexity, but also our piece’s role in the box as a whole. Sensitivity to different people’s particular gifts and particular vulnerabilities and limitations also becomes essential. When collaboration is required, such perspective gains added significance. We need a good sense of how various pieces are best used together and how such interrelationship can best be drawn on when confronting different sorts of creative challenges.