This is the last of nine blogs on “temperament,” the general approach that people take in life. We have previously discussed four “temperaments” as I have conceived of them for several decades beginning when I began to use the term “players” for people who seemed naturally inclined to excitement, adventure, play, and most of all, experience. You might find it valuable to review the blogs on the four temperaments that I discuss including players (seeking experience most of all), lovers (seeking connection), analysts (seeking meaning), and caretakers (seeking the care of property). I have discussed the basic natures of each of these four temperaments noting how they see the world, how they evaluate the world, how they communicate to the world, and how they engage the world. Following these initial explorations of the basic natures, I then proceeded with the opportunities and challenges that each temperament has. I now come to the last of these discussions of opportunities and challenges, that of people I call “caretakers.”
Review of caretakers
As I conceive of these four temperaments (caretakers, lovers, players, and analysts), I see people who roughly (or thoroughly) fall into one of these categories love something. Lovers love (human) connection, players love experience, analysts love meaning, and caretakers love property. You may recall that I see myself primarily as a caretaker. I was bemused a few months ago when Deb and I were giving a lecture about our recently published book, I asked if anyone in the audience (of about 100) “loved property more than people.” There were no raised hands. I was bemused by this, but certainly understood the reticence of people admitting that they just might love property more than people. Then I noted that I was such a person, and then saw people look at me aghast as if I had just spoken some kind of psychological heresy. We didn’t have time to unpack my statement about “loving property,” but it is indeed true that people with my orientation towards the caretaker temperament have a deep value of property, primarily human-made property.
This orientation towards property leads us into the current discussion of “opportunities and challenges” that we caretakers have in the world. So, consider in your own mind first, whether you might be such a person. You might find it a bit embarrassing to see, much less admit, that you really love property. If you are distinctly not a caretaker by nature, you might consider that you are related in some way to such a person, perhaps a parent or a spouse. If that is the case, you might now note how you feel towards that person. You might discover that you think something is wrong with him/her. I have found that people tend to revere my caretaking orientation and abilities, on the one hand, and find my orientation to property boring at the least, and perhaps appalling at the most.
So, let’s first look at the opportunities of caretakers.
A note of history
The opportunities for caretakers abound, at least in this country (U.S.), a country that was essentially founded on property and work that protected and improved upon the property. If we look at American history, both the good and the bad, we can see that both the successes and failures of America have largely been related to property. This view then gives us a picture of the opportunities and challenges that caretakers have in America, and to a lesser degree, other countries. Consider what you see and hear when you go through a day. I purport that you see things. I might even suggest that when you see people, you see people having things, looking at things, caring for things, or doing things. I believe this things orientation that is so American is not so predominant in other countries except, perhaps where American property orientation has been imported. Consider, for instance, how the Native Americans originally viewed property, particularly land. They did not “own” land. They may have occupied it for a season or two, but the land belonged to the Spirit, or perhaps to the People at large. (Most Native Americans had names for their tribes what could be translated into “The People” rather than to the names that Northern Europeans came to call them.) But from the very beginning of the Northern European invasion of what came to be called the United States had a distinct orientation towards the acquisition, protection of, and enhancement of property. There were elements of the philosophical types who we might call analysts, certainly the player types who might have been the Lewis and Cark’s and the Daniel Boone’s of America exploring the West, and people of a lover temperament among them, but the predominant feature of the country from its very beginning and continuing into the present has had to do with property. Property first. Everything else second: that would include loving people, loving ideas, and loving experience. This leads us to the next discussion:
The opportunities for caretakers
They abound. The opportunities abound in America. Note the thousands of “startups” that are much the rage. Note the independent workers much the rage. Note the “work from home” way of work is that is more and more common. Note the opportunities for making money (which is essentially property) that is all the rage. Then note that there seems to be no end of this rage that is so intrinsic to property acquisition and management, but we will delay this discussion until we face the challenges that caretakers have. My point here is that America (by which I mean predominantly the U.S.) gives us caretakers a wide berth in going about life because America is so property-based. I have found that I “fit in” with just about any group and any ensuing conversation because talk almost always goes to what one has or what one has done. Having and Doing are the central ingredients of the caretaker temperament. Let’s look at some of what is the fabric of American society:
- Academic: What is the basic orientation towards most of elementary school through high school? Achievement, grades, and finishing a degree. I aver that most of such school is very production oriented, or doing-based. This made school quite easy for me, especially in elementary and high school, most of college and most of graduate school. I knew, for instance, that I needed to be “Dr. Johnson” so I raced through my doctorate in two years. Didn’t learn much, but I finished. Compare that achievement, if we even call it such, with Deb, the analyst, who took 10 years to do the same even though she is the smarter of the two of us. Deb was interested in learning. I was interested in doing. Pity the poor analyst kids (I see many in my office) who are looking for meaning, much less the players looking for experience.
- Vocational: Work is about “doing”, right? Not necessarily. What work does a math researcher do when s/he is trying to find the answer to a complex math problem? S/he is not “doing” anything, really. I was bemused many years ago when I discovered that the math “research lab” on the top floor of the math building was just a lounge with blackboards (remember those?) on every wall. Aside from these math types and many other researchers, philosophers, and the like, most of us think of work being equal to production, care, or enhancement of property. Pity the poor guy who cares about people, ideas, and experience if he is in a doing job. I recall a gentleman a saw recently who was a player by nature but struggling to get his accounting degree because he “could make a lot of money as an accountant.” I know of a current patient who makes nearly six figures doing a job he “hates” but can’t seem to give up his current income to change careers to do something that he dreams of doing and might be might be quite good at. Vocation is much easier for caretakers like me because we can do most anything.
- Family. When I ask people what is important to them, I always have in mind the four elements of the four temperaments: property (caretakers), connections (lovers), experience (players), and meaning (analysts). But when I ask people what is important to them, I almost always hear “family” regardless of what their temperament really is. The idea of “family” is so central in the current psychology of the country that it dominates what people think is really important. When people think of family, they almost immediately think of taking care of their families with property and money. They don’t think of experience, meaning, and connection so much as they think of stuff. When I think about “family,” I think of taking care of the property that I have, they have, or we have. I have been thinking much lately about how I can protect and preserve my property so that my surviving child and grandchildren might use this property when I die.
- Fun. What is fun for people? When we think of “fun,” most of us think of doing Deb and I are finishing up a bit of vacation as we speak and we think we might do something today, like play miniature golf or go to a movie. Lovers might just think of snuggling on the couch or having an intimate conversation. Players might think of rock climbing or playing hockey. Analysts might just think.
So, in general, the opportunities for caretakers are many. Especially early in life. What about the challenges?
Challenges for caretakers
The most important thing to say about the challenges for caretakers is that the first part of life, and perhaps the first two-thirds of life, is pretty easy for the likes of caretakers because so much of America is designed for their doing things and caring for property. It is in the later stages of life that caretakers tend to get bogged down. They get bogged down with property and doing. Furthermore, people of other temperaments get bogged down with property, money, and the security that such things brings to people, like the guys I just mentioned making a lot of money or wanting to make a lot of money doing something that they don’t really like. Let me examine the tendencies that caretakers have when things get bogged down:
- Too much property. Because caretakers take care of property and spend an inordinate amount of time acquiring property, they usually have much more than they need. Then they have to paint, insure, protect, and otherwise care for all this property. It can be a burden. I am working diligently to use, sell, or give away much of the property I have acquired over my years of life.
- Aging. Now that I am 75 and fast approaching 76 I note that I simply can’t do what I used to do. This, of course, is true of all people, but for us caretakers it is a burden more than for most because we can’t do what we have always done: everything. I am now seeing a very caretaker-by-nature man of 50 something who had a tragic accident that left him unable to use his legs at all and much limitation with his hands. He is beside himself as to how to find a way to do something that is meaningful when meaning has always been working 12 hours a day and then some. You don’t have to be physically impaired to note that you can’t do what you used to do with aplomb.
- Angry. This young (he is 50 something as I noted) man is quite angry. He is angry at life, at himself, his wife, and perhaps God for the predicament he is in because he can’t do what he has always done. But he is not the only angry caretaker I have known, sadly including me. It took me years to overcome the tendency to get angry when I couldn’t do something or someone else didn’t do something. Life was all about doing, and since I thought everyone should be like me, just do shit, I got angry when they didn’t do. I had a conversation with a like-minded concrete guy who is working on a project at our house. We both agreed that “the younger generation doesn’t know much about work,” which just might mean work=doing things.
- Lost relationships. I know of many caretakers who were so good at doing things, that they couldn’t maintain a successful relationship, which ideally would include all the ingredients previously mentioned: connection, meaning, and experience. A woman who just works all the time, whether at home or at work may not notice that her spouse and children miss some of the other ingredients like connection, meaning, and experience. I hear from people that their spouses “just don’t have any time for me.”
Aside from these specific challenges caretakers face, the greater challenge is for them to develop beyond their basic nature. This doesn’t mean that they give up their love of property. It means that they give up their singular love of property and develop love of connection, meaning, and experience. Likely, a caretaker will have what we call a “secondary temperament,” which might be player, lover, or analyst, so developing other loves apart from property might start with one’s secondary temperament. It is much harder, however to develop the really undeveloped natures that are so rich in people of other temperaments. It is hard for a caretaker to take Buddha’s alleged statement, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” As it a challenge for a person of any temperament to develop secondary and tertiary elements of his/her psychological nature, it is essential. The other three temperaments often suffer for the lack of doing and producing: analysts can end up having everything possible but nothing real; lovers can have love for everyone but not ever do anything, and players having all kinds of experiences but not accomplish anything of lasting value. Caretakers need to learn to love more than property.