What is it that makes someone the person that they are? It's an important question, because the way in which we answer it largely determines how we relate with and understand one another. We all need a starting point, after all. In acquaintances, friendships, relationships, and ministry, we need to have some concept of how to approach another person. We need a framework for interaction.
Multiple answers are proposed as to what lays at the root of a person. Some people would say it's all about culture, so in order to successfully interact with another person, it's necessary to have a handle on their cultural context. As I've mentioned before, I was in New York City last month for a class. The name of the class was "Exegeting the City." Basically, all week we talked about how to interpret culture, specifically in an urban setting. When you really looking at it, it's a little overwhelming to consider how many facets there are to culture. Music, food, money, family, ethnicity, fashion, etc. It all makes up culture. Our cultures are so ingrained within each one of us, it hard to even separate cultural issues from the rest of perception.
Interpreting culture is obviously important, especially when we attempt to cross culture in order to understand people different than us. Damage is done when a person imposes his own culture over another instead of trying to understand the other culture and work within it. A middle-aged Italian immigrant restaurant owner living in NYC is different than a black high school kid in Memphis, and both are different from a Chinese business owner in Shanghai. As we interact with one another, and as we minister to others, we have to exegete culture.
Another way we might understand others is through personality classification. When I was on camp teams a couple years ago, we did a lot with personality types, and since this year's new camp teams just had their winter retreat and did the same thing, I've been hearing about this topic once again. For camp teams, we used a color scheme to categorize personality types. I was a green, which means that I think a lot and am sort of a sarcastic jerk. Coincidentally, in the first blog post I wrote, I mentioned that part of the reason I was starting a blog was that I was a green personality and needed a means of getting out all the stuff I'm supposed to be thinking about. (That's just a little fact for you trivia fans.)
Last year I went on Ozark's "Spiritual Formation Retreat," and once we talked a lot about personality by using the Myers-Briggs paradigm. In this personality test, you get four letters that are supposed to describe your personality. I discovered that my personality is ISTJ. The I is for introverted, which means I like myself more than I like other people. The S is for sensing, which means that I live in reality. The T is for thinking, which means I'm not wishy-washy. And the J confuses me, but I think it means I'm more of a thinker than a sensor, whatever that means. Perhaps unfortunately, at the retreat they had a sheet that said what personality types go are best suited for different ministries. The one for youth ministry was ENFP--my exact opposite. Hm.
One problem with all this personality talk is that it makes everyone who learns about it into amateur psychologists. Everyone starts analyzing each other. "Oh, you would say that. After all, you are an ESTP." It's like there's a bunch of incarnate Jungs running around. Heck, who needs a college degree if you've spent a day studying personality?
As with cultural interpretation, personality analysis has value. People are naturally wired in different ways, and all the different types are important. But they do need to be dealt with in different ways. I would imagine that people who are more emotional could get frustrated by someone like me, who keeps things to himself until he unleashes is wrath on his blog.
There is a problem with both cultural interpretation and personality analysis, however. They just don't go far enough. They each have value, but they're not the end. They can only take you so far because they still group people into huge categories. There are countless ways to break down culture, and there are tons of different personality types, but there are still more people. So we need something more than cultural exegesis, and we need something more than personality exegesis. We need individual exegesis. Two people can belong to the same culture, and even have the same basic personality type, but they could still be drastically different individuals. Because what makes a person is more than these large categories. We can't be satisified with just placing others in boxes and leaving it at that.
I'm a 22-year-old white, middle class male that lives in Missouri. But that doesn't make all of who I am. I'm a green and an ISTJ. But that doesn't make all of who I am. My story makes me. The fact that I tripped while jumping rope in 1st grade and smashed my face into the gym floor has shaped me. The fact that I eat Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A each on a weekly basis adds to my identity. My interests, passions, experiences, habits, and dislikes make me me, and they don't all fit into the spheres of culture or personality.
So what does all of this mean? Simply that we learn to know each other more fully, both in our own interpersonal relationships and as we seek to minister to others. I can't say, "Well, this person is a blue/otter/INTJ, and he white and American and lower class" and think that I understand someone. I may be able to determine some things, but there is so much more. What baseball team does he like? How did he get that scar on his elbow? Who has influenced his life? What books (or blogs) does he read? People all have stories, and most want those stories to be known by at least someone. So it's our job to read them, not just to look at the table of contents.
But enough of all of that, because here's what I really wanted to talk about: Earlier this week my friend Jessie and I were discussing the game that you see at arcades where there are all of these lights in a giant ring, and the light speeds around the circle and you have to hit a button to try to get it to stop in one particular spot. It's the big-ticket item, because each time someone fails, the jackpot goes up. One lucky day on this game, and you'll win enough paper tickets to get as many plastic spider rings as your heart could desire. My question is this: How is this really much different than what happens in casinos? Kids take their money, exchange them for tokens, and then play this game hoping to hit the jackpot but end up walking away with nothing. Chuck E. Cheese's is nothing other than a gambling haven for minors. The kids who spend their time here only go on to spend it at the Indian casinos later. Now, it's fine if you want to let your kids go down to the arcade and blow their allowances on games of chance. Just don't complain when they're 35 years old and living in your basement.