My brother is five and a half years older than me. He was a happy, even-tempered baby and a well-behaved child. My parents believed themselves to be really wonderful parents because the fruit of their labor was evident. Since they were such great parents, they might as well go ahead and have another kid to bless the world with another of their great progeny.
Within five minutes of my birth, my dad heard me cry and told my mom, “Honey… this one’s gonna be different!” I had a different personality from my brother, literally, from the moment I was born. In our case, there would be no mistaking whether our differences were by nature or nurture; clearly, they were nature.
Our personality differences have been apparent our whole lives. Where he is balanced and even, I am off-kilter and either high or low. My brother may not have been devastated when his teacher looked at him the wrong way, but he also wouldn’t have been overwhelmed with elation if our parents had surprised him with a trip to Disney World. My brother’s ACT scores in high school had a range of about 3 points between his highest and lowest score, and my scores had a gap of 13 points. He is “pretty good” at almost everything, whereas I am either excellent or terrible at things. In almost everything, I tend to have higher highs and lower lows than my brother.
I knew from the time I was very young that I wanted to marry an even, balanced, non-roller-coaster kind of person. It isn’t that those are the only kinds of people that attract me, but because I had the foresight to know what kind of person would provide a counter-balance to my more extremist personality and ultimately help provide balance in our home. I also figured out when I was young that I wished I was moderate.
While I was thankful for my gifts, the things at which I was excellent, I felt that being pretty good at everything was preferable to being excellent at some things but terrible at just as many. Not only that, but moderate, medium people are more likeable. They’re easier to get along with, and I’ve always desperately wanted to be liked (another extreme trait). So how could I become more medium? I tried to make myself talk less, to improve in areas in which I was terrible, to show less excitement when I was happy and less sadness when I was disappointed. I even tried to tone down my strengths just so they wouldn’t stand out. I tried everything!
My pursuit of moderation lasted well into college. It really wasn’t until I met my future husband, a highly intelligent but otherwise low-key individual, that I began to learn temperance. What I have realized is that extreme likes, dislikes, gifts, weaknesses and even some opinions are by personality; extreme reactions and behavior are by choice. I’ve definitely toned down because of his influence, but at the end of the day, I’m still the same, high-low kind of person. Moderate just isn’t who he married.
I have asked myself whether my efforts to change my personality are brave attempts to improve who I am or a kind of sucker punch to the Creator that designed my nature. After years of consideration, I have concluded that personalities are not right or wrong, better or worse. Some are certainly more popular than others, but you can’t place a moral judgment on a personality. What can be rated is behavior. A person may be, by nature, very sensitive to the words of others, but whether she reacts in outburst or understanding is up to her.
Yet, a person’s personality should not be underestimated. It’s a complex concept, one that embodies not only a person’s likes and dislikes, but also her character, abilities, and ultimately, behavior. Just because my nature from birth was different from my brother’s does not mean that it is unchangeable or uninfluenced. Our natural personalities will contribute in our early years to the amount of rejection and acceptance, successes and failures we experience as a child. Depending on the message we receive after each experience, our personality may be confirmed or gently molded into something different. If some of my extreme personality traits have lasted into my mid-twenties, despite so many years of trying to change them, it’s because they’ve been confirmed in one way or another.
The lesson here is that, no matter what my personality is, I can try to understand, or at least accept, those who are different from me. As I’ve written here before, few things feel worse than feeling misunderstood or misinterpreted. Don’t you just want to be known for who you are? Don’t you want your intentions to be correctly discerned and not guessed at? Since I know how much it hurts my feelings when someone dislikes me for being small or large, when I have so desperately tried to become medium, it would be poor character for me to cast a similar appraisal on another person.
If it helps, I have noticed that when I moderate my behavior, my emotions tend to follow in kind. If you are like me, tired of the high highs and low lows, and you just want to emotionally live in Kansas rather than the Rockies, it seems the best way to learn to moderate one’s emotions is to begin by moderating one’s behavior. When I follow my husband’s temperate example in one situation, it becomes easier for me to respond with temperance the next time.
Well, my husband is, among many other wonderful things, very accepting of other people’s differences. He doesn’t always understand me—in fact, he often doesn’t—but he always accepts me. While I knew I wanted to marry a Kansas, he chose to marry the Rockies. The terrain may be more difficult to navigate sometimes, but he tells me he likes it that way.