In case you have forgotten, that concise aphorism was inscribed in the forecourt of the Greek Temple of Apollo nearly 2700 years ago. Curiously enough, it recently found its way onto a plaque hanging over the Oracle’s door in the Matrix film series. With that impressive history, how could we say “no” when a modern day sage showed up at our door on an autumn afternoon, offering insights into the truth behind our behavioral façades?
Okay, okay. It was hardly a mysterious encounter, cloaked in eerily rising smoke on a moonlit night with whistling gusts of wind swirling the smoke into patterns. Instead, Em’s brother was here for a weekend visit and he offered to administer the world famous Myers-Briggs assessment survey. It’s a sophisticated questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. Wow! Now that’s a fancy description! Who wouldn’t say “yes” to this opportunity? After only 144 rather simple, yet repetitious questions answered in less than 30 minutes, the results were in. No more pretending!
This wasn’t the first time we submitted our psyches to the scrutiny of the M-B Oracle. The last round was about 20 years ago, back when it was a much simpler process and less sophisticated. Today, it’s been updated—all kinds of bells and whistles that can corner your most illusive behaviors, urging them to “fess up” and let the real you out. But seriously, the new version is designed to help you identify “behavioral preferences”—the changeable ones that you’ve adopted over time in order to do your job or just get along in the world and distinguish those behaviors from the unchangeable “true preferences” that make up your core personality. Those are the ones we were hoping to uncover Saturday afternoon.
The results surprised both of us.
When we first met over 40 years ago, we seemed to be a perfect match, since we were obviously so different from one another. Opposites attract! Our dissimilarities seemed complementary and we thought of ourselves as a good team. We were able to adapt to diverse settings and developed behaviors that were successful—whether they felt natural or not. After a while we actually believed that those behaviors represented who we really were—as is often the case. But no!
For 10 years we have deliberately followed our dreams and the natural flow of routines and preferences. The astounding truth is that we are now, according to the M-B, nearly identical. In other words, by taking away the old façade that we considered mandatory, we have uncovered uncanny similarities.
Now the question becomes: are we finally revealing the truth about ourselves—or are we observing another façade of preferences that seems to work during this particular period in our lives? Well, the sage didn’t answer that question. He just said that core personalities don’t change. Really?!!
Maybe there’s a bigger question: is it even possible to truly know oneself? Isn’t it enough to feel creative and vital? The fact is, we are all works in progress—moving targets that can hardly be summarized, captured or limited by any sage-istical code. (That’s not really a word, but we like the idea.) Perhaps the secret is in asking the right questions, rather than finding the right answers.
Maybe it’s time to watch the Matrix again, the 2 of us, the “identical twins” that we have become—except that we still look and act nothing alike . . . yet.