Do the things on your desk betray the thoughts on your mind? Does your dining room décor carry clues to your character?
Award-winning psychologist Sam Gosling has dispatched teams of scientific investigators to poke around bedrooms and offices, check out iPods, and peek at personal websites—to see what can be learned about us simply from looking at our belongings. Snoop is a captivating guide to our not-so-secret selves, and reveals how intensely connected we are to the places in which we live and work.
Getting to know a person requires that we find ways to jump from one level to another, not just travel extensively at the same plane.
Dan McAdams, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy and the author of The Stories We Live By, studies personality ‘the long way’, meaning that he is interested in learning not only what people are like now but also how they become one way rather than other and, ultimately, how their past and present play into their future. McAdams explores a question at the very heart of what personality psychologists most care about:
What does it really mean to know a person?
He begins by inviting the reader to imagine him and his wife driving home from a dinner party. Before long, their conversation turns to the other guests. One of them, a widely traveled freelance writer, stood out from the others. At first she intimidated McAdams:
“I felt I couldn’t keep up with the fast tempo of her account, how she moved quickly from one exotic tale to another. Add to this the fact that she is strinkingly attractive woman, about forty years old, with jet black hair, dark eyes, seemingly flawless complexion, clothing both flamboyant and tasteful.”
This was Lynn.
As the evening wore on, McAdams and his wife found themselves warming up to Lynn as she revealed more about her life and history; her values and feeling; they realized they both wanted to know Lynn better.
This is the point at which McAdams poses his fundamental question:
What would he needed to know in order to know Lynn better?
This is a powerful question because although we can all bring to mind people we know well and people we know superficially, when are forced to articulate what exactly distinguishes these two groups of people, the veil of simplicity falls away.
Beyond miscellaneous facts (she has a large collection of butterflies) and historical details (she went to school in Guayana), it is hard to put your finger on what more you know about your circle of friends than about your acquantainces.
What is it, in concrete terms, that we know after a thousand days of knowing someone that we did not know on day one?
McAdams provides a good answer to this question. Getting to know someone, he says, means progressing through three distinct levels of intimacy.
1. Dispositional Traits
Traits come first because in McAdam’s scheme because they provide and efficient ‘first read’ on someone.
The Big Five dimensions–opennesss, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreebleness, and neuroticism–describe people at the level of traits.
“Kind, vivacious, tolerant, honest, and spunky.”
“Fun, smart, sexy, and open.”
“Honest, crass, a little bit trashy, a lot naughty, and never, ever, dull.”
2. Personal Concerns
Personality descriptions invoke personal strivings, life tasks, defense mechanisms, coping strategies, domain-specific skills and values, and a wide assortment of other motivational, developmental or strategic constructs that are contextualized in time, place, or role.
3. Narrative Identity
McAdams describes his third level, identity, as ‘an inner story of the self that integrates the reconstructed past, perceived present, and anticipated future to provide a life with unity, purpose, and meaning.”
Thus, identity brings coherence to the different elements of our lives; it is the thread that ties the experiences of our past, present, and future into one narrative.
Complement Snoop with How to learn about ourselves for better relating to others. Bijoy Goswami divides people into Mavens, Relaters and Evangelists.