Black, White, Gray and J

I’ve just been reading some Jeff Jarvis’ recent posts about Senator Obama (like this one), and it’s a clear reminder that even a lot of smart people will ultimately cast their vote based on a general gut assessment of the candidates.

I don’t know where Jarvis sits on the political spectrum, but he dissects and parses Obama’s speech along all the same lines as the stream of other conservatives who criticized it. Jarvis makes it very clear that he doesn’t want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt – which is fair. But like the other pundits who criticized Obama’s speech, Jarvis takes some pains to manufacture the doubt.

The bottom line seems to be that people who see the world in very black and white terms (not speaking of race now) didn’t like Obama’s speech. Black and white thinkers need to push things toward one end of the spectrum or the other – a thing is either right or wrong, good or evil, us or them. These are the “J” types in Myers-Briggs. They wanted Obama to disown or denounce pastor Wright, because Wright is clearly a wrong-headed person.

Maybe conservatives tend to be “J” types, because conservatives tend to frame things this way. Tax cuts are good. Illegal immigrants are bad.  There’s an axis of evil, and these countries are part of it. Black and white thinkers don’t appreciate people who push things toward the middle, who try to highlight complexities and nuances. They think these people are weak, equivocating, slippery, untrustworthy.

Gray area thinkers are the “P” types in Myers-Briggs. We (yep, I’m a “P”) see black and white thinkers as crude, simple-minded, judgmental, prejudiced. We were exuberant in our praise of Obama’s speech because we’ve had eight years of Bush. Yes, we’ve had it. Had it with his brand of black and white thinking. It was refreshing to hear a politician talk about something in honest terms and not try to boil it down to right and wrong.

Obama loves a man who is deeply flawed. He has striven to understand the nature and origin of the man’s flaws.

Who among us is not flawed? Who among us hasn’t loved someone who is flawed? I don’t know about you “J” types out there, but we “P” folks understand that everyone is flawed.

My stepfather had a mean streak in him. He used to call me a “fag” (among other things) when he got angry, because I liked to draw and paint and cook, and because one of my high school buddies sported an earring. He pushed my mom around a couple of times. On the other hand, he taught me a lot, gave my family a lot.

He was a guy who’d had a really rough life in some ways, a guy who’d been deeply hurt and betrayed a few times. Understanding this about my stepfather helped me dismiss his verbal abuse and put it in its own box, so to speak. Should I have dismissed (or disowned) him and not just his abuse?

That’s not how love and family and friendships work. Anyone who thinks these things are black and white is kidding himself.

4 Replies to “Black, White, Gray and J

  1. Not interested in blowing a hole in your theory about Js and Ps here, but I might be the exception that proves the rule, if such a thing truly exists. In my youth I was much more black and white than I am now. Certainly when i was in the military that was so as well. Back then I was an INTP. Now, I am much much more gray. Last time I was Myersed and Briggsed, I was an INTJ.

    Go figure.

  2. Interesting comment Posolxstvo. After posting this, I reconsidered my suggestion that there’s a correlation between ‘J’ behavior and conservativism. It occurred to me that “fundamentalists” at both ends of the political spectrum are black/white thinkers and therefore ‘J’ types. You’re probably on to something though. I know I’m way overgeneralizing the application of Myers-Briggs labels (for one thing, you almost never see any mention of qualities or traits tied to single letters – always pairs of letters, or a full set of four letters).

  3. are boundaries between “personality” types black and white? What is the color between green and red, brown -poop brown? a friend of mine says nobody understands the brown, man.

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