Temperament V: Caretakers

Players and caretakers both like things. And they both like to do things, but their liking and doing is quite different. Players see the world as a place to play; caretakers see the world as a place to take care of. Players want to play in their doing; caretakers want to produce in their doing; players want the experience of doing and potentially the excitement in their doing. Caretakers want accomplishment in their doing. Players want to use things; caretakers want to save things.

Think of caretakers as people who have a mission: take care of the world. Caretakers take to heart the dictum that God gave Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 1: “Take care of the world.” A caretaker goes through his or her day seeing what needs to be cared for: fixed, repaired, restored, or cleaned up. If you’re not a caretaker yourself, you certainly have known them. They can be very unobtrusive in their taking care of things, so unobtrusive that you might not even see them fixing and cleaning. You might see the result: the kitchen cleaned up, the kids’ room put back together after a day’s playing, your car washed, or the toilet paper replaced on the dispenser. Caretaking is more than taking care of things, but caretakers are first quite aware of the status of things, how to keep them in working order, and the importance of property for its own sake. Yet it would be a mistake to see caretakers as simply taking care of property, however good they may be at that because caretakers also take care of people. In fact, much of their taking care of property is for the use by people. A caretaker might simultaneously enjoy seeing a cleaned-up car, but this could be his car, your car, or anyone’s car. I have known caretakers who are compelled to turn the lights off in car in some parking lot that belongs to a complete stranger. There is a certain kind of love that caretakers have for people, but this love is profoundly different from the lovers that we previously studied.

I remember being surprised by the activity of a caretaker friend of mine one morning some years ago. I heard the hammering and sawing being done by a carpenter repairing my back steps. The carpenter, Jim, was getting the job done that I had asked him to do. I hadn’t actually expected him to get this job done so soon because I just asked him to look at the steps the day before. Jim is the kind of a guy who tears right into a building project, thinks on his feet, and makes adjustments to the project as he goes along with his work. He doesn’t ask a lot of questions, just enough to get him going and keep him busy for the next few hours. Many years later I met another caretaker-like carpenter, Lonnie, who operates in the same way: examine the project for a few minutes, jump right into the project, and make adjustments as necessary. In a lot of ways Jim and Lonnie are men after my own heart because I am also a caretaker. We caretakers have some very specific characteristics:

  1. Business.

Consider the two ways of pronouncing this word, business: “biz-ness” and “busy-ness.” Caretakers are both: business people and busy people. Caretakers are usually quite good at “doing business,” like conducting the affairs of a private enterprise, or better yet, working for someone else in conducting corporate business. The basic nature of caretakers lends them to the rudiments and requirements of succeeding in the business community because so much of doing business lies in the arena of taking care of things like money, property, and people. Because they are people who like to get the job done, business owners like them and usually count on them. Leave caretaker employees on their own, and you will be able to count on them doing their jobs without further interruption. Caretakers are good at doing things on their own or following directions of someone else who is trying to make business work. You want something done, without play, conversation, or questions: ask a caretaker to do it.

Doing business is only part of caretakers’ business nature, but caretakers also have a busy-ness nature. A caretaker can become completely absorbed in an activity for activity’s sake. Given that my basic temperament is caretaker, I can speak about this characteristic quite personally. Friends have often commented about my busyness, sometimes seeming “unavailable” for spontaneous conversation or play because I am always busy at something. The “being busy at something” all the time brings us caretakers great pleasure. Our view of the world is that it needs to be cared for. It also needs to be protected, repaired, and organized. All of these activities are caretakers’ way of taking care of things. There is always something to do in the world for caretakers, and this doing something is what the caretaker feels inside of himself or herself as their main gift to the world. Caretakers don’t think about their doing; they may not even plan their doing; but they are always doing. Even as I am writing this sentence, there is a “doing” nature to it, a busy-with-something nature. I have just finished with a patient and I am waiting for my next patient who happens to be a few minutes late. I don’t want to “waste” my time “hanging out”, calling my wife to say Hi, or going on Facebook. I want to do something, hopefully something important.

As players don’t need to learn to play, lovers don’t need to learn to love, and analysts don’t need to analyze, caretakers don’t need to learn to be busy. I never remember dreading work set out for me to do. I never remember having nothing to do like so many people often express. I never remember being bored. I always had my desk ordered and clean when I was in school. My desk is not always free of papers but it is never messy or cluttered. Nobody ever told me that I should do these things. It just came naturally to take care of things. It doesn’t even matter whether these things are mine or someone else’s. Why would I feel compelled to pick up toilet paper on the floor that someone has dropped? It might not even be sanitary. It doesn’t even seem logical. But I am compelled to do things like this. In my mind things need to be taken care of, even public restrooms. What is so hard for people of other temperaments to understand is that caretakers are compelled to take care of things, particularly human-made things. To truly understand a person with a caretaker nature you must grasp this core value that caretakers have: take care of the world, particularly things.

  1. Production

Players get bored when there is no excitement, lovers get bored when there is no connection with other people, analysts get bored with there is no problem to solve, but caretakers never get bored. It doesn’t much matter to them what they do, as long as they have opportunity to do something, primarily producing something.

The business community loves caretakers because bosses can count on their caretaker employees to finish the jobs given to them. In fact, sometimes bosses have to tell their caretaker employees to go home instead of staying at work until the job is done. I know many caretakers who struggle to use up their vacation days even if they lose them after a year. Our office manager/secretary, Cheri, is certainly primarily a caretaker, and we have had to remind her that it is time to call is a day on occasion because she “just had one more chore” to do. Leaving work with unfinished tasks is hard for caretakers, especially if they are in the midst of completing a task that isn’t quite done. Caretakers are notoriously last to leave work, come home late from work, and bring work home, as Cheri has done many times. She has learned to score the many psychological tests that we administer in our office, and will routinely take these tests home if they are not finished on her shift.  Cheri was distressed not long ago because a patient had been delinquent in getting her tests to her which meant she might not be able to get the result back to me in time. One of the best hallmarks of caretakers is that they do what is expected of them, and they do more than they expect of themselves.

All caretakers have the same values in doing, producing, and repairing, but the things they do may differ. All caretakers value property, but they do not all value the same property. Lonnie the carpenter values his tools and the five cars he is restoring, while Secretary Cheri values an orderly desk and all insurance claims properly made. Some caretakers value the care of people and do such things as changing diapers for adults in a care facility as intrinsically valuable and meaningful to them. Some caretakers want a meticulous lawn, while others might only see it necessary to cut it once a week and weed it once a year. Yet all caretakers like the sense of accomplishment: looking back on what has been accomplished in the previous hours or days. I often find myself simply enjoying the accomplishment of my production: having seen eight patients, having written 40 pages of a manuscript, having finished remodeling the kitchen, or even having finished putting away all my books and files where they belong.

American culture rewards production, regardless of quality. Because of this valuing of producing it is easier for caretakers to adjust to American society than all the other temperaments. The Japanese culture also values production, but has added to this value a deeper concern for quality than is usually present in American production. American cars dominated the world for more than 60 years before the Germans and Japanese began to produce cars with more quality. It took 20 years for the American car culture to accommodate to the market’s demand for better quality in automobiles. Yet there is still much reward for quantity over quality in America. It is the busy mothers who are seen as motherly, the busy businessman who is seen as successful, the busy teacher who is seen as most helpful, and the busy pastor who is seen as properly pastoral.

Players talk about experience, lovers about connection, and analysts about meaning. One last thing: when caretakers talk, they usually talk about what they have done, will do, or should have done.

  1. Providing.

When life requires something to be done, caretakers are there for the doing. Likewise, caretakers are best at providing what people need. They enjoy providing physical or emotional needs to the people around them, usually without complaining. Caretakers sometimes complain of “having to do all the work around here,” but usually they just go about doing what needs to be done. People with other temperaments are far more inclined to complain about “busy work” that gets in the way of what they would rather do. Caretakers usually do not have something they would rather do. The difference between the nurse who goes about her caretaking duties without complaint and the nurse who complains about her patients is probably due to their difference in temperament. Nursing is largely caretaking by its nature: it is active, it is required, and it is repetitive. Such repetitive caregiving fulfills the caretaker’s sense of purpose and duty in life.  LPNs might actually to do more caretaking than RNs, and CNAs might do even more than LPNs. If a non-caretaker is “caught” in a profession like nursing that requires a great deal of simple care, he or she may become quite unhappy because their professional life asks more of them than they have to give. I heard 15 minutes of complaints today from a teacher who has an analyst temperament. She complained that her students didn’t want to learn and were often disruptive. If a caretaker teacher were teaching the very same students, she might not have such resentment. She would see the task of taking care of her students regardless of their behavior. I suspect that Martha is frequently disappointed that her students aren’t interested in learning as much as they are in getting good grades.

The providing nature of caretakers is not limited to professions. Caretaking is the essential nature of early parenting, and much of the whole of parenting. Parenting of infants and toddlers requires the repetitive nature that is natural to caretakers. While no one likes being awakened at 3 A.M. in the morning by a screaming infant, caretaker parents take these events in stride. It is the caretaker who easily gets out of bed for the third time in one night to provide for his infant’s basic needs of feeding and diaper changing. I remember many such semi-sleepless nights. When I was aroused by one of my children’s hunger cries, I did not feel the urgency of my daughter’s needs for sustenance or comfort as much as I felt the necessity of getting out of bed and going about the business of warming the bottle and getting the dry diaper ready. Very often, I didn’t even think about whether I wanted to get out of bed; rather, I just got out of bed and did the necessary. Pity the infant of a player parent who wants to play until midnight and then have a good night sleep. There is not much play in diaper-changing and bottle-feeding.

  1. Property-oriented.

Caretakers are particularly good with management of property. When explaining the caretaker temperament, my wife suggests that we consider such people “groundskeepers”.  It is the groundskeepers of the world who protect and preserve property, their own property and the property of others. Some caretakers have less interest in property because they would rather take care of people, but all caretakers tend to manage property, repair property, and protect it. They also tend to own a lot of property, often because they don’t throw things away.

The way caretakers manage property is only the behavioral evidence of their basic personality structure. These folks seem to fuse their personalities with property, and then they feel emotionally connected to property. For instance, books might be valued for themselves rather than for the information they contain or for the pleasure they give in their reading. Sam has a library of books, but he admits that he will never read most of them. His books are very important to him, and he has them all ordered, visible, and available for use if necessary, however improbable that may be. I borrowed a book from him some time ago, read a few chapters and put the book aside. My friend has asked about the whereabouts of his book several times, and I finally felt compelled to return his book half-read. Sam is not so interested in getting the book immediately back because he would gladly allow me to have the book for years if necessary; he just wants to know that the book is alright. He wants to know where his stuff is. As a caretaker myself, I can’t blame him. I want to know where my stuff is too. You would rarely, if ever, hear a caretaker say “oh, it doesn’t matter, it is just a book” or “that isn’t important, it is just something that I had around”.  Stuff is always important.

I have come to believe that caretakers consider property to have intrinsic spiritual value. They can value property over people’s feelings, or over people altogether, not so much because they are selfish but because they see their sacred responsibility to save and protect property, ultimately for human use. In this sense caretakers can be very generous with property. They just want their property cared for responsibly. A caretaker girl could easily loan her favorite toy car to his player brother erroneously thinking that her brother has the same value for the toy car, only to be gravely disappointed to find the car ignored, lost, or broken because it was, indeed, a “toy” to the player brother. When that toy is lost or damaged, the caretaker child might be truly grieved. The toy was sacred to her, but simply a toy to her brother.

  1. Simplicity

There is an attractive simplicity about caretakers. Their view of life is so much about what is, that they are very good at seeing the facts and saying the facts. I wonder if the boy who saw that the “Emperor had no clothes” was simply stated the obvious. He was not trying to understand why the emperor had not clothes. He just saw that he was naked. Seeing what is, more than seeing what could be, is the heart of the simplicity of caretakers. They do not by nature look under the surface. They look at the surface. They do not ask how and why; they ask who, what, when, and where. Yes, caretakers can be simplistic, but for the most part they just look to understand things in as simple a manner as possible.

Caretaker’s simplicity is a part of their doing nature. They can truly be satisfied doing almost anything. As we noted, they rarely get bored, probably because there is always something to do. Their activity can be intense or it can be easy; it can be intricate, like fixing a computer, it can be delicate, like a jeweler repairing a diamond ring, or it can be repetitive, like the man on the assembly line. Simple doesn’t have to be trivial. The most successful IT people are not those who ask why the computer isn’t working; they ask what isn’t working, what was happening when it stopped working, and what was happening in the room when it stopped working. The true scientist may be a genius but he can also be a person who can do 200 trials to find the exact combination of chemicals that does the job he wants done.

Further Reading:

Note suggestions on previous Temperament blogs

Previous blogs on players, lovers, and analysts

Future blogs on the challenges and opportunities every temperament has

Johnson, R. and Brock, (2018). Watch your temperament. Prepublication manuscript available at our office.