Book IX.
 Original Personality

 

1. Kirists think about personality. We are curious about who we are, how we form, why we think what we think, why we do what we do, and the extent to which human beings are the same as one another and different from one another.

2. Kirists grow aware that no textbook “theory of personality” feels very satisfying. Freud? Jung? Adler? Trait theory? There are dozens, but it’s hard to find the person in personality theory. Who we know ourselves to be somehow isn’t there.

3. So, we must come to our own understanding of personality. The tasks of self- obligation and self-authorship include coming to such a personal understanding. As we pursue that understanding, we see that new metaphors might be useful.

4. One useful metaphor is “original personality,” a phrase that conjures ideas like “nature” and “temperament.” Such a phrase helps remind us about what human beings bring to the table at birth and what any given individual might bring.

5. A second useful metaphor is “formed personality.” Kirists contrast original personality with formed personality. We suggest by the phrase “formed personality” the extent to which personality becomes rigid and fixed over time.

6. A third useful metaphor is “available personality.” This phrase communicates the idea that while personality gets locked into place over time, severely reducing our ability to change, grow, and act freely, some amount of freedom still remains.

7. Thus, we conceptualize personality as comprised of three parts, original personality, formed personality, and available personality. A core kirist goal is to make use of our available personality to achieve the greater awareness of personhood.

8. “Personhood” is a fourth metaphor, as in “the movement from personality to personhood.” Personhood is a state of better-than-average freedom from the bonds of personality and greater-than-average awareness to which kirists aspire.

9. None of this is more mysterious or harder to speak about than “original personality.” How should we conceptualize that? How could that ever be investigated? How can we know anyone’s original personality, including our own?

10. However, some things we can say. The first is obvious: that we are born already completely ourselves, in possession of some sort of “original personality.” Every creature is born already itself. Just look at puppies, kittens and infants.

11. One puppy really needs its mother while its brother is already off exploring. One kitten is sleepy all the time while its sister is a dynamo. One infant startles easily and her brother sleeps through anything. Creatures are fully themselves from birth.

12. Psychology pays no attention to this obvious truth because this truth is inconvenient. First, original personality is too hard to conceptualize. Second, it is impossible to investigate. Third, it undercuts the current “mental disorder” paradigm.

13. This avoidance makes the whole project of psychology a bit suspect. If you dub yourself “the science of human behavior” but take no interest in something that must be influential in determining that behavior, aren’t you off on the wrong foot?

14. Psychology just skips it. But kirists mustn’t. A kirist says, “Yes, I can’t really distinguish between what is original to me and what I’ve become over time. But I do have my suspicions and some strong intuitions about my original nature.”

15. Don’t you have the sense that you were born somebody who, for instance, loved to sit in a corner reading a book? Who was skeptical of adult pronouncements? Who possessed a refined sense of justice and injustice? Doesn’t all that feel familiar?

16. Or maybe it was some other set of qualities and attributes. Loving dresses, even though you were a boy. Obsessing about numbers. Being burdened by some unnamable background sadness. Fearing spiders. Hearing music when others didn’t.

17. However, even though we may feel that we know what sort of person we were at birth and sense who we were supposed to become, can we ever know if those feelings are accurate or more an artifact of our formed personality?

18. It is hard to see how we could know. Even if you asked some observer, say your wise uncle Max, what you were like as an infant and he replied that you were sensitive and shy, would that amount to a kind of an answer? Probably it wouldn’t.

19. Probably we can’t ever know. That makes original personality one of life’s great mysteries. Occult systems like astrology exclaim, “No mystery there! As above, so below!” Kirists shake their head and reply, “I doubt that I can know for sure.”

20. We likely can’t know exactly who we were at birth, all of our suspicions, intuitions, and baby pictures notwithstanding. But despite that impenetrable mystery, we do know that original personality matters. Just knowing that gives us a huge leg up.

21. Without that awareness we might, for example, readily accept a label like “depression” for what we’re feeling. With that awareness, we can sensibly ask: “What if I was born sad? Shouldn’t we consider that a reasonable possibility?”

22. The fact that original personality is real, as real as genetics, carries with it all sorts of implications. First, there is the certainty that our original personality will prove challenging. It is bound to create pressure and make all sorts of demands.

23. If you’re born with a ton of life energy, won’t that amount to a demand? If you’re born with a heightened sense of right and wrong, won’t that amount to a demand? If you’re born already craving alcohol, won’t that amount to a demand?

24. In as many ways as we can conceive of original personality, in exactly that many ways may we find ourselves put upon by nature. Our particular nervous system, our particular brain, our particular consciousness: what a roster of demands!

25. Second, aspects of your original personality are bound to clash with aspects of your formed personality. Conflicts are inevitable. If, for instance, you’ve dumbed yourself down, won’t your native intelligence get angry and snipe at you?

26. Picture all those conflicts. Not singing when a song is in your heart. Forcing yourself to stay still when every fiber demands motion. Struggling to hold your tongue when a lie is being promoted. Kirists know to expect violent clashes of this sort.

27. Third, aspects of your original personality are bound to make themselves felt all of a sudden, out of the blue. This will unsettle you, cause you to wonder what just happened, and maybe even make you doubt that you know yourself so well.

28. Say that a part of your original make-up is a heady egoism. Maybe you’ve done a yeoman’s job of keeping that egoism under wraps. But one crisp autumn morning you burst out with some huge grandiosity. Isn’t that day going to wobble?

29. Let’s remind ourselves why “original personality” is so very important to consider. It’s vital because we’ve turned a blind eye to it and therefore have come to understand ourselves much more poorly than if we took its many realities into account.

30. Kirists, taking original personality into account, get ready for who we are and who we always will be. We are not surprised when some stray moonbeam brings on despair. We hate that, we wish that wouldn’t happen, but we aren’t surprised.

31. When, say, we get sad, we are slow to label that “the mental disorder of depression.” Instead, we step to the side and ask ourselves, “Is sadness something I was built to experience? Let me consider that possibility before I pin on some label.”

32. Or, say, we’re pressured by our high energy levels and can’t make ourselves sit still. We don’t jump to call that “mania” or “attention deficit disorder.” We say, “Wow, it looks like I was born with a ton of energy. How should I deal with that?”

33. Or, say, we find it hard to keep meaning afloat. We don’t rail at ourselves for not finding “the meaning of life.” Rather, we say, “As a smart, sensitive person, I can see right through to the void. I guess I was born to have problems with meaning.”

34. We don’t say, “I’m attracted to someone of the same sex. I must be sick.” We don’t say, “I have some powerful revenge fantasies. I must be sick.” We don’t say, “I don’t like people very much. I must be a monster.” We say, “How original!”

35. We can’t know the exact contours of our original personality. But not forgetting the incontrovertible reality of original personality changes everything. It is the equivalent of remembering, without embarrassment, that we are human.

36. Consider the important idea of readiness. Maybe we aren’t “born sad,” as if we were already frowning at birth. Maybe it is more that our original personality is such that we are ready to become sad, once we encounter the realities of the world.

37. Say that you were born bright, alert, and aware, with some inborn love of justice and some hatred of injustice. Doesn’t that amount to a recipe for lifelong sadness? How can a bright, sensitive, ethical person not get regularly sad?

38. Even as a child you could distinguish between the stories that your parents were telling you and the reality you saw with your own two eyes. Your brand of consciousness saw this clearly and you found yourself shaking your head from birth.

39. You saw that one child was well-off because he was born into wealth and that another child was starving because he was born into poverty. You saw the reality behind the smile the clerk at the supermarket was forced to wear. You saw things.

40. These sights naturally made you sad. They made you sad for two reasons. First, it’s dreadful that children starve to death and that clerks are forced to smile against their will. Second, it’s dreadful that adults shut their eyes to these truths.

41. It wasn’t that you had a genetic predisposition to something called “depression.” To hunt for some gene or combination of genes would be the height of folly, as would scanning your brain. No; by virtue of your very nature, sadness was coming.

42. To say that a person might be “born sad” isn’t to say that he comes out of the womb frowning. Indeed, he may come out smiling. He may be a perfectly happy baby, a perfectly happy little human being who, however, is already on the brink.

43. He is primed for that sadness by virtue of his makeup. To put it the right way, he isn’t “born sad,” he is “born ready to be sad.” And the world will meet him more than halfway. Given his nature and the nature of the world, sadness is coming.

44. He is “born ready to be sad” in the same sense that a shiny new car parked in Paris is “born ready to be dented.” The reality is that no car’s body or coat of paint can withstand the kind of banging bound to happen on Parisian side streets.

45. That shiny new car is “destined” to become a banged-up car because it is vulnerable to dents and because its situation is conducive to banging. It may be shiny when it leaves the factory but how will it look after a few years? Just a little sad?

46. Countless combinations of traits and attributes might lead to chronic sadness. Folks in that position weren’t “born sad.” They were born primed to be sad. Sadness was available to them and life, carelessly and indifferently, made it available.

47. Kirists remember not to automatically characterize some state as a disorder when it may be the playing out of “original personality meeting the world.” There is no pill to take when the issue is a beating heart slamming against a cruel world.

48. Consider the matter of consciousness itself. What if there are real differences between the consciousness of one person and the consciousness of another? Isn’t that breathtaking to contemplate? What results might flow from such differences?

49. Consciousness in one person might create an experience of indwelling where everything was literal, where every teacup was exactly a teacup. Another person might be born with imagination, where teacups fly away at the slightest whim.

50. Is the first person, who, say, has become a banker, likely to be interested in the art of the second person, except, perhaps, as an investment? What if they are married to one another? Teacups all in a row and teacups flying this way and that?

51. What if human beings quite literally do not see the world in the same way? What if you see the hand of God where I see the natural world? What if you see numbers as magical and I see numbers as mathematics? How fundamental is that?

52. What if our original personality is some combustible mix of egoism and compassion, truthfulness and trickiness, a love of building and a love of destruction? Won’t a combustible mix of that sort make us confused, upset, and unsettled?

53. Won’t we feel like we hardly know ourselves? One minute we want to do the next right thing. The next minute we want to ruin everything, spoil someone’s day, spoil our own day, all for reasons we can’t fathom—unless we remember it’s in us.

54. Watch a child build his tower in all seriousness and then gleefully knock it down. More than one thing is going on in that child. Deep in his heart is a desire to make a wonderful thing. And deep in his heart is a desire to obliterate.

55. Maybe each of us is exactly such a combustible mix. Kirists presume that we are. We are not surprised that we might help our fellow creatures one moment and care nothing about them the next. We are honest and we expect that.

56. Our original nature isn’t just one color, it is colorful. As Marsha, a study group participant put it, “I wasn’t born one thing or another but rather completely available, available to love, to hate, to create, to destroy. And I’m still available.”

57. Cynthia explained: “My formed personality is much politer than my original personality. I have a sarcastic streak that I keep hidden. The themes of humiliation and revenge that I play with in my head come from that original place.”

58. From Nancy: “My original personality was innocent and very inquisitive. But I also had great anger. I think I needed the anger to deal with the world, which was no innocent place. I came into the world with both the innocence and the anger.”

59. Whether or not these reports are strictly accurate, they speak to a truth. Human beings are not built with insides that are only pretty. Kirists do not run from that truth, as if it were sinful. They say, “We are quite the creature! What a cocktail!”

60. They take that truth into account and do a much better job than average of accepting their urges, their idiosyncrasies, their out-of-left field impulses. They know that they want to help people get up—but maybe only after first tripping them.

61. The implications of original personality speak to a human reality more dynamic, more complicated, and maybe more interesting than the idea of a formed personality alone would suggest. Original personality produces amazing dynamism.

62. We are born; and along comes life. Our original personality is then hammered in the crucible of reality. Maybe we were born introverted; and then our home life feels so dangerous that we dive deeper inside, where we become melancholy.

63. That native introversion was original to us. That deeper, darker introversion was formed. Our already intense style of indwelling became airless and overheated. Life turned what might have been a lovely place of reflection into a prison cell.

64. Imagine if we began to ask the question, “What if a person is born primed to become sad and primed to become very sad if his experiences and his circumstances make matters worse?” Doesn’t a question like that have great explanatory power?

65. We might even want to talk about a “primary” sadness that arises because we are built a certain way and a “secondary” sadness that arises because life piles on and deepens our sadness. That way of speaking might prove very useful.

66. We might say, “I suspect that I was primed to become sad. Then my life experiences made me really sad. That doesn’t translate into some pseudo- medical mental disorder. That is my exact nature dropped into my exact circumstances.”

67. That way of thinking would help us distinguish between the secondary sadness arising because, say, we are currently unemployed, and the primary sadness that has dogged our heels for the longest time because we are built a certain way.

68. In that scenario, if you found an interesting job that might help ease your secondary sadness. But within days of getting that job, your “original sadness” might well return, making your new job suddenly feel altogether lackluster.

69. A kirist exclaims, “Caution! I may have been born with a susceptibility to chronic sadness, to chronic anxiety, to chronic obsessiveness, to chronic restlessness, to chronic boredom. I’d better be on guard and ready myself!”

70. Whether as a declaration or as a quiet conversation, you acknowledge your truth, for instance that boredom is bound to dog you. That boredom is an unwanted consequence of your original personality encountering the facts of existence.

71. You prepare yourself. You say, “I know what my life purposes are and I have a simple procedure, to do the next right thing. When some threat bubbles up from my original nature, I employ the super power of my life purposes to meet it.”

72. You continue with, “I know that pesky sadness is right there, dogging my heels. But I have many important things to do, many self-obligations, and that’s where I’m focusing. Maybe I can’t kick sadness completely out the door but I can still live.”

73. We are obliged to learn how to deal with the challenges that our original nature produces, challenges like an excess of life energy, background sadness, susceptibility to boredom, or whatever else it may be. This is a prime kirist self- obligation.

74. Most people do not take into account how endowments like intelligence, sensitivity, and rationality may together produce pathways to outcomes like chronic sadness. As a result, they end up surprised and confounded, rather than prepared.

75. Kirists prepare themselves. They acquire a working sense of the persistent challenges that their particular nature intends to throw at them. Then they step to one side, so as to apply awareness to what will prove a lifelong adventure in living.

76. Say that a powerful desire to withdraw into solitude wells up in you. But you know that you are needed on the front lines of a battle. You shake your head and say, “I know that I crave solitude. But my next right thing is to head to the front.”

77. In this way, you honor your original personality without having to battle it or stand confused or confounded. You know that solitude is in your blood. But you also know what is required of you. You smile a little, nod, and pack your kit.

78. Organizing yourself around your life purposes isn’t likely to amount to a complete defense against the demands made by your original nature. But living such a purposeful way of life may prove a stout enough defense and must be worth a try.

79. Your nature will still make its urgent demands. It is a roiling thing comprised of everything that consciousness can throw up at you. It is at once readiness, blueprint, potentiality, and actuality. Yes, all that wildness is really there inside of you!

80. But you can get ready. And maybe even achieve something like peace. Can’t you picture a day arriving when you hear yourself say, “Oh, hello there? Up to one of your tricks? How amusing! Mind if I just sip my tea and get on with things?”

81. We cross our fingers that we have sufficient awareness, freedom, available personality and wherewithal to deal with our original nature, whatever demands it makes, whatever it might whisper in our ear, whatever mayhem it might suggest.

82. At the same time, we laugh a little. How amazing that nature made a creature like us! Well, we must deal with what nature has wrought. We are not nearly as free as we need or want to be but we have a destiny to craft and a life to lead.

83. Original personality is powerfully influential but it is not our destiny. Our destiny must arise out of the molten interactions between our birth instructions and who we’ve become, all of that mediated by our ability to step to the side and be free.

84. If we are lucky and adamant, we make peace with our original personality, with its demands and its consequences. And maybe we stand in awe, just as we stand in awe of an infant whose look tells us that she is coming from an ancient place.

85. Original personality is ancient information brought forth today in our particular package. We live with that nature, we make sense of it, and we adapt, striving to upgrade the cacophony of personality into the quiet pride of personhood.