Kathryn Swegart ponders how a study of temperament has helped her learn to understand herself and others - and to become a better peacemaker.
Ever wonder why you do what you do? Perhaps you are quick to react and like to debate. On the other hand, you may be diplomatic, hate conflict and enjoy being home in a quiet place. Both these descriptions describe two temperaments analyzed in the book The Temperament God Gave You, written by Art and Laraine Bennett.
The Bennetts' book is not a trendy self-help book. Hippocrates first wrote about four main types of human traits back in 370 B.C. The Bennetts explain that temperament is not personality. It is like the raw material an artist uses for his masterpiece. We are born with a certain temperament. The authors write that personality “begins with a basic temperament, but it is clearly affected by environment, education, and free choice.” Our temperament can never be destroyed, but it can be modified.
I delved into this book to understand myself a little better. Little nooks and crannies of my inner self became obvious to me. I desperately wanted to be sanguine, a person who had many friends and enjoyed parties. Sorry to say, that just is not me. In my childhood days, I preferred to jump on my bike and take solitary rides. A perfect day for me was to play hopscotch (alone), and then go read a book. In high school, I envied cheerleaders who flitted around the hallways, always the center of attention. Deep down, I just wanted to be invisible and alone with my thoughts.
I kept reading the Bennetts' book and the picture became clear. My dominant temperament (most people have secondary temperaments) is phlegmatic. I am an introvert. I am a person who is polite, prefers routine, is patient and tolerant, but not a leader. Here is another phlegmatic shocker: I hate shopping! The Bennetts' book includes a temperament indicator. I diligently circled appropriate traits, still rooting that I would be sanguine. Final tally: choleric 14 traits, sanguine 28, melancholic 39, phlegmatic 55. No contest.
Know thyself. That is a vital factor in spiritual growth. I can better know my strengths and weaknesses, thereby build where I must and have reasonable expectations about what I can’t do. The Bennetts emphasize that we can change how we interact with ourselves and the world. It all starts with self-awareness.
Thomas à Kempis writes in The Imitation of Christ:
Nothing is so beneficial as a true knowledge of ourselves. Always think kindly of others; this is true knowledge and leads to perfection.
How true! Knowledge of the four classic temperaments also helps me to be patient with others. Choleric people annoy and mystify me. How can anyone be so cocky and relish a good argument? Now I have a glimpse of what makes them tick.
Not to worry. I do accept my little phlegmatic self. It certainly helps in my vocation as a Secular Franciscan. You see, people of my temperament are peacemakers. It appears to me that our world is in great need of those who by nature desire peace and try to bring harmony to their little corner of the world.
Copyright 2021 Kathryn Swegart