Have you noticed that there is more unrest and dissatisfaction among your friends and colleagues? Have you noticed that many corporations and businesses have less interest in ethics and more interest in satisfying individual personal needs without much attention to consequences? Have you noticed that people feel more unhappy more of the time? Like many people around age 55, over the past number of decades, I have seen major changes in how people process the world around them. In today’s world, there is less attention on following the rules and more attention on satisfying personal needs at any price. Although we are satisfying more of our individual needs, we appear to be unhappy. I have a theory about what is happening that is making people appear more unhappy today than they appeared to be years ago. Let me explain it from a personality evolutionary theory. But first, complete this self-test on preferences.
WHAT ELEMENT DO YOU PREFER?
ARE YOU MORE LIKE EARTH:
1. Are you motivated by the need for a secure, stable environment?
2. Do you prefer things to be decided, structured, and solid?
3. Is your attention on the finished product?
4. Are you more relaxed when you know that others are following the rules?
ARE YOU MORE LIKE WATER:
1. Are you motivated by the need for harmonious relationships?
2. Do you prefer things to be fluid, open, and flexible?
3. Is your attention on how to develop people and how to get along together?
4. Are you more relaxed when you know that everyone’s thoughts and feelings are respected?
ARE YOU MORE LIKE FIRE:
1. Are you motivated by the need for independent action?
2. Do you prefer things to be exciting, stimulating and results-driven?
3. Is your attention on putting out fires and solving immediate problems?
4. Are you more more information relaxed when you feel unimpeded by constraints?
ARE YOU MORE LIKE AIR:
1. Are you motivated by the need to be competent?
2. Do you prefer things to be constantly improved and perfected?
3. Is your attention on initiating new ideas that have far-reaching implications?
4. Are you more relaxed when you are able to be creative and innovated?
JUNG’S MENTAL FUNCTIONS:
If you look at Carl Jung’s theory of personality, you will see that there are four mental functions, two for taking in information and two for making decisions about the information taken in. Taking in information relates to the perception mode. In our perception mode, we tend to either prefer to perceive things mainly through our intuition or through our senses. The intuition preferred mode looks at the big picture and generalities whereas the senses mode looks more at the sensate data of sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell. The senses mode is more reality-based while the intuitive mode is more general and abstract.
Making decisions on the other hand relates to the judgment mode. Our preference for making decisions about the data taken in tends to come from thinking or feeling functions. The thinking function prefers making decisions in an objective, detached and critical way while the feeling function tends to make decisions through a more personal, subjective, and appreciative way.
Linking Jung’s work to temperament theory, we find four fundamental people types: the intuitive-thinking temperament is more mentally centered, initiating new ideas in a conceptual-objective manner. The sensing-perceptive temperament is more social-mentally oriented connecting actions to ideas in a conceptual-objective-action driven manner. The intuitive-feeling temperament is more social-physical and in a subjective manner, assimilates experiences in the body through feeling processes. And the sensing-judging temperament is more down to earth and in a hands-on practical way, physically strives for a detailed-productive outcome.
THE BASIC ELEMENTS OF LIFE:
I like to think of the four temperament types in terms of four basic life elements — Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. The expression of Air is like the mental function of the intuitive-thinker, which is all seeing, intangible and abstract. The expression of Fire is like the social-mental orientation of the sensing-perceiving temperament, which appears fast moving and impatient in its action-driven focus heating things up and keeping things moving. The expression of Water is like the social-physical expression of the intuitive-feeler. Water is fluid, adaptable, taking on various shapes as it subjectively assimilates data through feelings. And the expression of Earth is like the physical sensing-judging temperament — laden with details, striving to build and manifest the ideas originated from the mental function.
UNDERSTANDING WHY WE FEEL THE WAY WE DO TODAY:
Let’s link the mental functions, temperament theory, and the basic elements of life and create a framework for understanding and clarifying why people feel and express themselves the way they do today.
EARTH: PHYSICAL When I was a child growing up in a small town in New York State in the fifties and sixties the basic element that was expressed in the world was that of the Physical expression of Earth. Everything was grounded, solid, and structured. We knew what to expect from everyone in their various roles of mother, father, school principal, banker, and employer, for example. We did not question or challenge people’s roles for the most part but if we did, we knew in advance what the consequences were. We did not question ourselves much either but if we did, we did it privately. There were no networking clubs, widow’s clubs, singles’ clubs, emotional support groups, or instagram followers free for that matter, many divorcees. The era I grew up in produced desks, file cabinets, and other office furniture that were meant to stay in one place — no rollers, no plastics, and no real moveable parts. People took jobs from companies like Kodak, Corning Glass, and Ingersoll Rand that provided them with pensions and benefits. With a company backdrop of paternalism, you did not question the boss or the organization. You checked your brain at the door, did your job, and were taken care of. If asked to jump, your job was to ask, “how high.” Innovation, creativity, and quality circles did not exist. In the family-life setting, children did not have a voice and as far as women were concerned, they were more or less adornments on the arms of their man. Everyone was stable and worked within the societal status quo. Solid, stable, dependable, and physical — Earth.
WATER: SOCIAL/PHYSICAL Then the seventies and eighties came and along came the Viet Nam world, plastics, computers, the pill, space travel, flower children, and the beginning of chaos. Tom Peters wrote his book, Thriving on Chaos, companies started downsizing, the training programs in organizations dealt with Dealing With Change, support groups blossomed, and people got confused as the societal mores kept being held up to the mirrors of our minds and we began to question everything, everybody and especially ourselves. I call this period the period of the Social-Physical Water. This was a period where the Water expression in our psyches was softening the Earth element and producing muddy thinking due to our experimenting, experiencing, and reflecting as we strove to understand ourselves. We no longer wanted to be the automaton who is part of a pre-determined mindset with fixed pieces operating as a mechanistic system set up during the industrial era. We wanted to evolve and be part of a living system and be recognized as an individual who has feelings and questions to explore. We moved from a dependent state to a co-dependent state where we still needed to be a part of the structure we knew but we also desired to be free from it. So, we started expressing our dissatisfaction with the world. In the workplace, we demanded and created employment equity, diversity topics, and began understanding the glass ceiling; women knew they were blocked for promotions but did not know how to break through. In the Water expression, we started experimenting with our lives and moving outside our boxes and paradigms. We had lots of sex, lots of alcohol, lots of alternative educational experiences in the many new schools that were built for us, lots of travel, lots of job opportunities and ongoing questions that did not seem to provide us with satisfactory answers.
FIRE: SOCIAL/MENTAL Then came the nineties and the new century. We had taken all the workshops, gone on all the trips, had all the education we wanted, had the jobs, the power, the money and then we became frustrated because we were still not happy and fulfilled. As we move through the next decade, we see evidence of what I call the Fire element of the Social-Mental expression. The Fire element illuminates and heightens what is good and what is bad about our lives. If there is corruption, the Fire element heats up and brings forward the corrupt business dealings. The Fire element illuminates the problems of our global economy where we all have a stake in the results but no one is in control. The Fire element changes the way we operate in the workplace. Fire wants changes to happen quickly and if our individual egos go unchecked and are used irrationally for selfish ends, we can act destructively and impatiently towards others. The Fire element, if consciously used, can illuminate and show us how to solve the problems of the world.
AIR: MENTAL If the Fire element highlights what is good and bad about the workplace, the Air element, or the Mental function, cuts through the confusion and clarifies the issues. The Air element asks us to re-define ourselves from a broader perspective. As our world heats up, we are called upon to answer the same economic questions every era has had to address: what are we going to do with our surplus and how are we going to take care of the source of this economy — mother Earth? Will we continue to focus on the bottom line or will we address and manage wisely our responsibilities to our global family? Will we strive to maintain decency even when our colleagues or family members are rude and crude? Will we honor the rules and regulations of the world we live in or will we continue to do it our way?
These are the questions and challenges each of us on an individual basis has to answer for ourselves. The answers we generate will determine the future for our children and their children.
Today’s world is about the “I” principle; it is about self-determination. Today’s world is about independence and about making up our own rules. We have moved way off planet Earth’s stable, conforming, solid expression into a gaseous state where we strive to act on our impulses for satisfying our individual needs. Have you noticed how many people run red lights today? Have you noticed how many short-tempered, ill mannered, selfish and insensitive people are around you in places of business more information and in the lineups at the supermarket or banks? Perhaps you yourself are experiencing more cynicism about the world we live in. Perhaps you no longer trust your broker, your banker, the school principal, the priest or rabi, your government, or your utilities industry. These feelings and thoughts are our reactions to the heated Fire expression around us where we feel we have to fight to get our share of the pie in a world where the resources are shrinking.
As we move toward the Air element, we will be asked to come up with a new context for living together in our global marketplace. As life on planet Earth is burning up and being consumed by us, we are forced to confront the issues of preserving, maintaining, and promoting a healthy quality of life. In the fifties and sixties, the world was about the “GROUP or the TRIBE” and how to sustain and maintain the status quo. In the seventies and eighties, the world was about “ME” and how I can grow and develop myself. In the nineties and in the beginning of this century, it is about the “I” principle and how to exercise my individual will and be recognized for my unique talents. And, into the next decade, the world has to redefine itself through the AIR element. The world must become about the “GLOBAL FAMILY” and how to sustain and maintain life on planet earth in a world that must share and distribute the goods and services in ways we have not created yet.
Whether you are a preferred Earth, Fire, Water, or Air element person, we are all striving to satisfy our needs. Are we happy? Will we ever be happy? This experience of happiness we have to decide for ourselves by answering the most important question of all, “how do I want to show up as I strive in a world that perhaps I can no longer trust to have my interest at heart.” My life makes more sense to me if I can remember that I do not have to change my ethics, values, or sense of decency just because the world is more cutthroat, stressed, and struggling to stay afloat.
As I redefine myself in the Air element expression of interdependency and move away from the independent expressions of the Fire element, I have to strive to come from a place where maintaining a healthy, caring humanity is more important to me than participating in the competitive struggle for the biggest piece of the pie. Although I myself am more cynical today than ever in my life, I am happier if I can maintain my ethics and respect for humanity. Today, it just takes more effort on my part to make these choices.
Danielle Gault is the author of the books, Natural To My Soul and The Well-Tempered Life available through