I’m not a misanthrope, but I can come across as one sometimes. It’s one of the downsides of feeling like an alien among human beings.
I need people, but I need “my kind of people.” Most of the time, I don’t feel as though I’m around anybody like me. That doesn’t mean I hate the people around me, but it does make me feel like an alien on the wrong planet — someone who’s longing for home. For wherever his people are.
One of the enduring assumptions of the modern liberal age is that we’re all basically alike and that everyone in the world will eventually get along together in perfect harmony. This is a very flawed belief. Although humans share a lot of biological similarities, the differences caused by personality, culture, religion and ideology are far deeper. This is why we can’t stand each other.
I’ve come to understand that very few people are like me — and very few people want what I want in life. This means the best we can do is learn to leave each other alone to live in peace.
I find myself frustrated with a lot of people — and a lot of people find themselves frustrated with me. Everyone who’s thought seriously about differences between people has experienced this, but most people are quick to dismiss those unlike themselves with ugly judgments.
“He’s just weird.”
“She’s too stupid to understand anything.”
“Anybody who believes that must be an idiot.”
“All of those people are just evil. They don’t have any real ideas.”
The more you understand human beings — especially through the lens of personality, in my view — the harder it is to glibly dismiss people in these ways. That doesn’t mean I never fall into the old name-calling habit in my own mind — calling people stupid or evil or worse — but if you have tools to help you understand the differences, it’s easier to see things from other people’s points of view, even if you’re never going to agree with them.
Take personality differences as an example. I found myself very annoyed at someone earlier this week and then realized it was simply because he and I look at the world in very different ways. Using the Enneagram personality typing system, I can see that he’s a Type 6 — a type which is security-oriented and concerned with loyalty and making safe choices above all — while I’m a Type 4 — a type which is oriented toward feelings and creative expression.
His basic nature drives him to seek something which is relatively trivial to me and my basic nature drives me to seek something which he genuinely doesn’t understand. To me, he seems plodding and overly fearful. To him, I seem like a careless risk-taker who’s willing to follow intuition. Even when we’re faced with exactly the same facts, we’re going to come to very different conclusions.
The Enneagram is just one personality system. You could make the same comparisons using any system. You’re going to find huge variations in what drives people’s basic actions and attitudes. What’s more, most people haven’t a clue why they do the things they do. So it’s easy for them to assume that others — who are driven by different instincts, which are essentially invisible to them, too — are stupid or crazy or evil.
Personality or temperament is a deep layer of differences which we don’t understand in each other, but then we layer on additional differences, too. We grow up being taught different ideologies and different religions and different cultures. Even when we’re not fully aware that we’re being taught certain things as normal, we absorb things from other people — and we unconsciously start judging those who are different.
I know better than to think we’re ever all going to get along and agree with one another. Earlier in my life, I was under the delusion — which is common to most people — that others would agree with me if I simply explained to them well enough why I was right. I now know that we’re never going to agree, because of the differences in our basic nature combined with the radically different things our cultures and experiences have taught us.
This doesn’t mean I’m right. It doesn’t mean that person or the other person is right. It just means we’re never going to see things in the same way.
The best thing about periodically feeling alienated from the world is that it allows you to be brutally honest with yourself about the absurdities of human life — because you don’t feel any knee-jerk defensiveness for the human race when you feel so disconnected from it. Because I do feel like an alien much of the time, I don’t feel the need to defend human nature and “explain” how we can all get along.
Instead, I accept that we are all radically different and want different things.
I’m not going to like a lot of people — and a lot of people aren’t going to like me. That’s perfectly OK. There are very few people around whom I’m going to feel at home and who are going to accept the parts of my personality that would baffle a lot of people. I want different things from what most of you want. Your motives probably confuse me, too. Again, that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The best thing we can do is to start understanding ourselves and each other better — so we can figure out why other people come to such radically different conclusions and beliefs. Yes, a lot of people might seem stupid to us. A few truly are evil. But most are simply “wired up” in very different ways than we are.
Understanding the ways in which we’re different — and being honest about the reasons for those differences — can go a long way toward keeping the peace. We have to learn that it’s OK to be different.
We have to learn that it’s OK to let other people think and act and live in ways that we disapprove of — even if that means we have to separate ourselves into groups of like-minded people.
Note: As a side note, I find that I can generally deal well with people of Enneagram Types 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 9 when they’re emotionally healthy. I seem to have a special affinity for Types 3, 4 and 5, presumably because they’re the ones right around my own Type 4. Types 6, 7 and 8 are far more problematic for me.