Tuesday, July 02, 2013

the fruitcake years: what I learned

So one of the things I did during those years was to join a number of women's spirituality groups.  One of my favorite themes for these groups was something along the lines of "Women's Ways of Knowing."  We talked about the special accuracy of feelings and emotions, and how sometimes you can know things without being told, and how sometimes intuition, hunches, and gut feelings can lead to more accurate knowledge than logic and scientific reasoning.  We talked about how those ways of knowing and understanding are undervalued by our culture, and how those of us who think intuitively as opposed to analytically can be at a disadvantage in an argument or disagreement with someone who wants to coolly use logic and statistics to prove that we are "wrong."

One of the best things I learned while I was investigating all that stuff was not to undervalue the way I think.  Sure, someone who is more "rational" and more "logical" can talk circles around me and argue me into the ground, but I no longer fold under that kind of pressure.  These days I know myself well enough to know when my inner sense of what is right is ... well, right. Or at least worth pursuing. I may decline to continue the argument, but I no longer give in.  I'm damn stubborn that way.

Looking back twenty-ish years later, the distinction we made in those women's circles between the two types of thinking seems overly simplistic now.  First of all, because it doesn't make sense to me anymore to divide types of thinking along male/female lines.  I know plenty of men who can think intuitively and who value their hunches; I know plenty of women (including me) who are more than capable of being analytical and learning higher level math and scientific reasoning--it's just not my default mode.

But also because there are many more ways of thinking than just two. We need all the types of thinking we can get when trying to make a difficult decision or meet a new challenge.  I would never make a major decision (like a job change or a move) based solely on a gut feeling that it was time to change.  The gut feeling might be the nudge I need to start looking around and consider various options, but now that I am older and maybe slightly wiser than I used to be, there's no way I would just have a hunch and turn in my resignation letter the next day. I'm not even sure I would have done that when I was nineteen (but I might have).

That being said, there is still a difference between intuitive thinking and sensory thinking.  Jung used that polarity--the continuum between gaining knowledge through intuition vs. sensory data--as one of the scales of his famous personality measures, now commonly measured by a test called the Briggs-Meyers.  I just googled around and read some descriptions of this, and I'm not sure I agree with some of them.  But I'm discussing it anyway.  You are forewarned that I am not an expert of any type on this stuff.  In fact, I probably don't know what the hell I'm talking about. It just interests me.

Take the example of walking into a room with several people in it.  Everyone will see the same things:  a woman wearing a blue sweater sitting on a brown sofa on the left, a man wearing a charcoal gray suit and navy blue tie leaning against the back wall, a child sitting on the floor to the right playing with small toys.

A person who leans toward sensory thinking will remember exactly that--the physical details of what she sees.  A person who leans toward intuitive ways of knowing may not remember the color of the sofa or whether or the type of shoes the man was wearing, but he might unconsciously put together the exact same visual data and get a feel for the "mood" of the room-- tense, angry, irritated, relaxed, happy.  The sensory person might notice that the man is facing away from the woman and is tapping his toe insistently.  The intuitive person infers that he seems ill-at-ease and might be nervous or mad about something.

Of course, nobody is entirely one way or the other.  But people who lean toward the sensing pole will want "the facts, just the facts."  Those who lean toward intuition will be willing to extrapolate and interpret-- in fact, they won't just be willing, they will be unable to stop themselves because that is how they "see."

A sensing person will come away with a physical description of the room and the people in it, the intuitive person will turn away thinking, wow, you could cut the tension in that room with a knife.  The intuitive might already be spinning possible stories about why there is so much tension in the air (are they the child's parents? are they angry because of something the child did?  are they tense because they are waiting for something?).

And since I am one of those intuitive people, I can tell you that we're often right.  (Although based on my own experience, I will add that even thought I am often right about the mood or attitude of a group of people, I am less likely to be right about the story I spin to explain it.)  Intuitives can be a valuable resource for sensory people because we notice moods, attitudes, and emotions that the sensory people miss.  Just like the sensing person is a valuable resource for me because I often don't remember the physical details of my experience.

But I can also provide that balance within myself--using my innate tendency to see things intuitively to inform my ability to think analytically.  Which has been a pretty cool thing to learn over the years.


  1. p.s. there's going to be another one of the what I learned posts but I don't think I'm going to get it done before we leave for vacation. Stay tuned.

  2. I took the Myers-Briggs years ago and came out as an INTJ - introvert (strong), intuitive, thinking, judging. As I recall I was fairly strong on in the intuitive part as well which seems to accord with some of what I've been reading in Quiet about introverts. I love thinking about this stuff!

    1. I am also INTJ :-) But it has been 20 years since I took the test so who knows what I'd be now. I think I'm probably more introverted, but not quite as extremely intuitive as I was back when I took the test. I'm also working my way through Quiet, it is really interesting.