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Operations of the Spirit: Part 11, The Spirit and Individual Affectations

This is the eleventh of twelve parts to an essay entitled
"Operations of the Spirit." The entire essay is 
just over one hundred pages if printed out, so it is 
presented serially in this blog. These parts should 
be read sequentially, because each builds on the previous 
parts. Hopefully, readers will have comments, suggestions 
and criticisms. The twelve parts are as follows: 
I. Introduction, Part I 
II. Confusing Terms, Part II 
III. Metaphors and Meaning, Parts III through VI 
     A. The still small voice, Part III 
     B. The heart and reins, Part IV 
     C. Light and burning, as in a burning in the bosom, Part V 
     D. Extracting meaning from metaphors,, Part VI 
IV. The Scriptures and the Spirit, Parts VII through X 
     A. The Oliver Cowdery revelations: D&C 6, 8 and 9, Part VII 
     B. Other modern-day scriptures, Part VIII 
     C. Ancient scriptures about the Spirit, Part IX 
     D. Extraordinary events, Part X 
V. The Spirit and Individual Affectations, Part XI 
VI. Conclusion, Part XII 

There are footnotes in this work. You can read the footnotes 
by hovering your cursor over the note, or you can click 
on the note to read it as text. There is a symbol at the end 
of each footnote that allows you to return to the text 
by clicking on it.

 

Part XI. THE SPIRIT AND INDIVIDUAL AFFECTATIONS

One must be careful to separate the effects the Spirit from the individual. How one reacts to the Spirit is altogether different than having knowledge that informs one of the sense of a situation and, therefore, how to act or which decision makes sense.1 How individuals perceive something is affected by who they are, which means what sort of personality they have. Confirmation bias3

Confirmation bias affects many members, who have heard something so long that they discount anything contrary to their long-held belief without giving the new idea fair consideration. This is the essence of being closed-minded or, using a scriptural metaphor for the mind, hard-hearted. A new idea expressed in a gospel doctrine class, for example, is not particularly welcome if it offends a long-held idée reçue. Little children, however, are not like this. Little children want to accept what is taught, but the adult should decide if what has been taught taught is trustworthy. As Sir Francis Bacon put it in AD 1605, “Opertet descentum credere. Oportet edoctum judicare.”4 and what people expect to see5 distorts objective observation and understanding, but personality has an even greater effect on perception. In other words, what one perceives as a spiritual experience is affected by one’s personality.

The Church presents a challenging environment because it hosts meetings where individuals hear and see and understand different things depending upon who presents it, the way the idea is presented, and the perspective of the listener. These perceptions are thought to be spiritual experiences, which they are in the most general sense. But one must remember that what is thought by one to be spiritual because of his or her personality will not affect one with a different personality.

The reality of different personality types has been the subject of study for millennia.6 Indeed, modern-day psychologists have developed tools to stereotype personalities into major groups.7 The predominately empathetic personality is swept up—feels the spirit of the experience—in the emotion of a good story that brings tears, but this same person feels nothing when the presentation is rigorous analysis, repetition of the constancy of the gospel, or just fun. The organized rule-follower, like the intellectual and fun lover, does not care at all about tears, but he is moved when he hears about constancy and receives reinforcement for long-held truths. Both the rule-follower and the empathetic, unlike the fun lover who just does not care, are uncomfortable—feel a dark spirit—when the intellectual complicates the order of things with a new perspective that questions a long-held notion because his thoughts and analysis—his reasoning—do not support the long-held idea; the rule-follower is upset because of the change, and the empathetic feels bad because of a perceived attack, and the fun-lover just does not care or understand what the fuss is about. Social interaction and fun are more important to the outgoing personality than dry analysis, weeping, or following rules that were obviously intended for someone else or a different circumstance.

What enlightens the minds of different personalities or what impels them to faithfulness is necessarily different. Just like different genres of books or entertainment appeal to different people, what inspires and induces action is different. That cannot mean, however, that what affects one person but not another is any less of a Spiritual experience for the affected person.

The effect of personality on perception was assessed by the author when he was an early-morning seminary teacher. The students in his senior class, all of whom he had been personality typed for pedagogical purposes,8 were asked to read and describe what struck them about Moroni’s closing exhortations.9 The results were paradigmatic. The empathetic students were impressed with Moroni’s emotional appeal: being ashamed of wickedness, looking for happiness rather than misery; helping the hungry, needy, naked, and sick; lifting widows who mourn and orphans).10 The logical thinkers focused on the logical exhortation: one cannot dwell with God in consciousness of guilt, would be happier in hell, wickedness will be as nakedness before God.11 The organizers in the class were most impressed the constancy of God: God is the same yesterday, today and forever without variability nor change; man created, fell, Christ redeems, man will be resurrected and shall stand before God and be judged.12 Finally, the free spirits focused on the wondrous aspects of Moroni’s words: God is a God of miracles, marvelous works, signs following believers, like casting out devils, being impervious to serpent bites, cannot be hurt, healing the sick.13 The students skimmed over the parts of Moroni’s exhortations that did not interest them. Yes, they could remember reading something about his message in the uninteresting parts, but what caught their attention—what moved them—was the part or parts of most interest from their perspective: their personalities affected their focus.

Another seminary anecdote underscores the necessity of thinking clearly about the affectations—rather than the effects—of spiritual experiences. A senior student came to class every day because her parents required it. She looked like a pioneer girl when she was dropped off by her father each morning a little before 6:00 a.m. She was always late to class, however, because she would go to the restroom and transform from Molly Mormon with her hair in a bun to hot chick: spike heels, short skirt, careful and dramatic makeup, and stylish hair. Nothing was ever said to her parents about their daughter’s daily metamorphosis or the fact that she was always twenty or thirty minutes late to class. However, the exciting, action-oriented, fun, courageous stuff was saved until she sat down. She paid attention to that stuff.

Still, she did not like attending seminary, so this free-spirited, logical thinker developed a plan to get out of class. She told her extraordinarily empathetic, rigid, follow-the-rules father that seminary class was not spiritual because the teacher never cried. The father reacted. Something was terribly wrong, so he complained to the stake president about the emptiness of his daughter’s seminary experience. A high councilor was assigned to monitor the class for a week or two to see if the kids were being poisoned. The assigned high councilor—a former bishop, stake president, and mission president who (luckily) shared the teacher’s personality—liked the class, so he asked if he could visit to learn for the rest of the semester, confessing why he initially attended.

The father who wanted his daughter to fit into his perception of a faithful and spiritual member tried to make his daughter what she was not. This girl’s sister, more than twenty years later, said that seminary class had been her sister’s salvation at a difficult time in her life because her sister was not at all like her suffocating parents—the daughter’s perception—parents who wanted their daughter to feel the Spirit—think and react—like they did when she could not.

Most people in the world are predominately empathetic and organized, meaning emotional and structured. The author believes that about forty percent of people are predominately empathetic, forty percent are rule followers first, ten percent who care most about the facts, and ten percent who are mostly free spirited. The percentages in the Church are, in the author’s view, even more skewed, something like forty-seven percent, forty-seven percent, three percent and three percent.14 The skew in the church means that those who are intellectuals, what has often been a pejorative term in the church, can be made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome by the majority. Same for the free spirits.

The author was a high councilor assigned to attend a ward other than his own. The subject was Lehi’s vision of the tree of life came up during Gospel Doctrine class. The teacher asked what the rod of iron was and got the rote answer, it is the word of God. The instructor then put the normally-used picture on display: a bannister by this path on the bank of a river. The teacher was ready to move on, but the author suggested that maybe the picture was wrong. Maybe the rod of iron should be portrayed as a staff of leadership consistent with the use of this metaphor in the Old Testament.  The reaction was startling. The teacher held up the lesson manual with the picture, and, then, the author suggested that perhaps the lesson manual was wrong. The teacher became emotional and immediately had the support of all of the feeling people in the room. The traditionalists were offended that something so well understood would be attacked.

The emotion did not subside. The bishop, with the author present, was informed during ward council later that day that the spirit of the Lord left the room when this spirit of Satan had been introduced by none other than the new high councilor. The sister was emotionally wrought, shaking and weeping, and said she had to make this declaration because the spirit had told her to do it. The bishop handled this situation extraordinarily well, suggesting that, perhaps, the experience was misinterpreted because, the bishop said, he knew this new high councilor well enough to know that there was usually substance behind what the speaker said, so he, for one, wanted to know more about this novel idea because it might expand his understanding; he then dropped the subject, called for the opening prayer, and moved on to the business of the meeting. This was all done in the third-person as though the author was not there.

Another indication of the commitment of most members of the Church to rules and order is the temple Most members of the Church have an affinity toward the temple with its routine and pleasant people because most members have these personality types. The routine and warm environment will not yield the same experience for the free spirit or the studious thinker who will attend the temple out of a sense of duty—it is called temple work, after all—rather than as a place to draw closer to the Lord. The thinker will perceive the temple as a place for the routine of the important ordinance work. The free spirit will rather be out doing something exciting or challenging, and the thinker draws closer to the Lord ensconced in his study or during challenging interactions at church even though the challenging discussions will be perceived by many as destructive to the Spirit.

Endnotes

  1. Gladwell, Malcolm, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York, Little Brown and Co., 2005). Gladwell’s book has many examples of experienced people being perceptive beyond the ken of those without this expertise. For example, a fire captain with years of experience goes into a room to check on his fireman and immediately “senses” danger, so he immediately orders all of his men to get out as fast as they can just before the floor collapses. The real experts on Greek sculpture instantly conclude a sculpture acquired by a major gallery is a fake even though it has been authenticated by the curators at the museum. Gladwell’s conclusion is that a person is more likely reach instant conclusions about something the tyro is unable to see because the experienced individual has more knowledge—more experience. It happens in the courtroom to lawyers who have been there a lot. It happens to the person who writes poetry. The experienced mechanic—not the one just out of training—just knows what is wrong with the car. These experienced people often cannot explain why they knew what was wrong or what was about to happen, but it the sort of thing that should happen to every person who has furnished his mind with the knowledge of truth and right as he interacts with his fellow men. It is, in a sense, the reason for stereotypes. A well-furnished person just knows what to say or do and how to say or do it when a new circumstance arises; he has just got a knack or talent or is good from the world’s view: he is close the spirit in the argot of the Church.
  2. Confirmation bias, which is beyond the scope of this essay, is the tendency of an individual to believe what he believes or wants to believe even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Jurors make early decisions about who is right or wrong and will then gather the facts to support their initial inclination. Thus, they willingly accept evidence in support of their view, but rationalize away or do not hear evidence that offends their predilection, “Well, you would expect him to say that. I don’t believe it.” Leo Tolstoy wrote:

    The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him. 2Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You,” ch. 3 (1893), Constance Garnett, translator. Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/4602/pg4602.html, (accessed April 3, 2012).

  3. “On the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divien and Humane,” bk. I, § IV, ¶ 12, Perhaps, an open receptivity to a new idea is what is meant by that warning that one must be as a little child to enter into the kingdom of heaven. See Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17.
  4. Gardner, op cit. at 266–277. Gardner recounts some startling and amusing experiences with perception. One illustration is the group of neuropsychologists who watched a thirty-second video of two sets of basketball players, one set of three dressed in white and the other three dressed in black. The psychologists were to count the number of times the black team passed the ball, which they were able to do. What they missed and could not believe until the video was replayed was that a person dressed in a black gorilla suit walked onto the court and thumped his chest for nine seconds before walking off: they did not see it.. Id. at 266–267.
  5. Hippocrates, c. 400 bc, and a later physician, Galen, ad 131–200, divided people into four groups: the sanguine are extroverts who are fundamentally impulsive, pleasure-seeking, social, charismatic, shameless, and confident; the phlegmatics are friendly, peacemakers, and seek comfortable situations where they can be trusted as loyal, faithful, affectionate, make friends easily, and are non-judgmental; cholerics are full-of-energy go-getters who follow the proper procedures as planned to a desired end; melancholics are fundamentally introverted and independent thinkers who analyze events ad nauseam, pick relationships carefully, and are fiercely loyal. Kagan, Jerome, Galen’s Prophecy; Temperament in Human Nature (New York: Basic Books, 1994). Carl Jung published a book in 1921 about psychological types that became the basis for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator developed by Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Myers, as a means of turning psychological theory into a useable format. See, generally, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator
  6. The Hartman Personality Profile is the creation of Dr. Taylor Hartman. He divides personalities into four color-coded groups: reds use logic, vision and determination in their approach to life; blues live a life of commitment and thrive on relationships; whites are peacekeepers who avoid confrontation; yellows are fun lovers. Hartman, Taylor, Ph.D., The People Code: It’s All About Your Innate Motive (New York: Scribner/Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2007). Another approach has been published by David Keirsey, Please Understand me II: Temperament, Character Intelligence (Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1998). Keirsey uses red for artisans, gold for guardians, blue for rational thinkers, and green for idealists. Another approach is used by the National Curriculum & Training Institute, Inc. The NCTI “true blue” is the feeling and considerate type; the “action orange” is self-motivated, spontaneous, outgoing; the “solid gold” is the organized, stable, dependable rule follower; and the “curious green” is the analytical thinker.
  7. Teachers make better teachers if they can adjust their teaching to the individual student, but that does not mean they should explain to the student what they are doing: different personality types react adversely if they know the instructor’s presentation is biased toward their sensitivities. The empathetic person, for example, is likely to think the teacher is being manipulative rather than sympathetic if he thinks the teacher is adapting his presentation to his dispositions.
  8. Mormon 8:34–9:25.
  9. Mormon 8:34–41.
  10. Mormon 9:1–6
  11. Mormon 9:7–14.
  12. Mormon 9:15–25.
  13. These percentages, of course, are hyperbolic for the purposes of underscoring the disparate percentages. No study has been performed other than the author’s experience over the years as one of those in the minority personality groups in the church. People in these less common groups do not really care what other people think, though, so it has never bothered the author even though there have been many experiences where the predominately empathetic or follow-the-manual members have counseled the author to somehow be other than himself if he is to fulfill his calling or have any chance of making it to heaven. The mostly empathetic personality, in particular, will be impatient with the logical thinker who rolls his eyes when weeping accompanies the expression of strong or dear feelings, but that impatience and disregard can be reciprocal; however, the logical thinker is more likely to be able to analyze what is happening and temper his impatience rather than, as the empathetic person, be judgmental. Unfortunately, the intellectual free spirit is much more likely to abandon the church when abused by the empathetic rule followers, and, then, the empathetic, rule-following hometeacher–the minister in today’s Church jargon–who must make that contact, will spin his wheels if not exacerbate the problem trying to reactivate that person who finds no social camaraderie or tolerance at church.

2 thoughts on “Operations of the Spirit: Part 11, The Spirit and Individual Affectations

    • Author gravatar

      I wonder whether we might ever see changes to the monthly Fast and Testimony Meetings, which often feature some of the best examples of confirmation bias?

    • Author gravatar

      The study of personality types is fascinating. I’ve learned so much about myself and my children studying up on the Meyer Briggs types. Personality types ought to be better studied by teachers so that they can at least attempt to include a bit of everything (intellectual, feeling, tradition, fun) into their lessons. We have one group of adults in my ward who never attend the second hour, choosing to socialize instead. Now that I think about it, they are the free spirit (fun) adults of the ward. The majority of the church members, feeling and organizational types, ought to be more sensitive to the needs of the few brothers and sisters in their wards who think and react differently than they. Isn’t that what the feeling types are good at anyway? If the feeling types will learn to not take offense so easily, and instead use their talents of empathy and understanding, perhaps we wouldn’t ostracize so many members. If we’re truly trying to have charity, then we’re not going to jump to conclusions about people’s motivations and take offense so easily when someone shares a new idea. Conversely, the intellectual types can work to present their novel ideas sensitively, so as to not stoke the emotions of the feeling types.

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