I’m the Type of Person Who Posts This on Metafilter
February 8, 2020 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Dan Brooks on the culture of Types, the difference between being things and doing them, and the freedom to become something other than what you are now.

“Seeking to explain this concept, the school sent home a flyer divided into two columns. The left column was headed ‘People With Growth Mindsets’ and listed traits like ‘sees setbacks as an opportunity to grow’ and ‘welcomes criticism as part of the process.’ The right column was headed ‘People With Fixed Mindsets’ and listed things like ‘think they have predetermined limits.’ Even when professional educators set out to tell the kids their qualities were not fixed, they explained it in terms of types of people.”
posted by sallybrown (38 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
I’m glad you are. Looking forward to reading this. Go you.
posted by pipoquinha at 5:05 PM on February 8


Favorited for the title. Looking forward to reading this thread for all of the counter examples by people who are the type of person who posts this on Metafilter.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:12 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


It's kind of an aside in the article, but I think it's worth mentioning that the early results about "growth mindset" vs. "fixed mindset" basically failed to replicate, so it's probably not a super special educational framing outside of a sort of common sense optimistic "remember that you can learn stuff and improve" sort of way.
posted by value of information at 5:48 PM on February 8 [16 favorites]


I mean temperament is a thing tho, so like, even babies are types of people. You can redefine personality as just behavior all you want, but we've been having that debate for ages, and the behaviorists haven't won yet. There's really no way to determine if people do things because of who they are, or if the things they do determines who they are.

But yeah, believing in change is better than not. I think you can believe that people have types/personalities/predispositions/temperaments/whatever and also that people can change and become different people. Part of that is behavior, but part of that is also not, or cognitive therapy and a whole host of other techniques wouldn't work (unless you're like that one guy I heard categorize thoughts as behavior, which I think is cheating).
posted by brook horse at 6:01 PM on February 8 [11 favorites]


because nothing is more frightening than the feeling that you are about to change into someone else. Ask any 12 year-old.

I just did. She said "Like growing up and being on my own? I mean, yeah, it's terrifying, but growth is a good thing."

She is inventing herself at the speed of internet, and tries on and discards types almost as quickly as she judges them. And yet she is quick to slap a label on herself when it's convenient. Time to clean her room? "I think I must have ADD." Wants to duck a friend she's fighting with? "Do you think I have social anxiety?" (Nope, just a bad case of trying to bullshit your mama.) Oh my God, last year she went looking through an old copy of the DSM-IV to explain herself to herself, randomly asking whether she fit the profiles for various diagnoses. It is a very strange thing to watch her experiment with her sense of self, rejecting my suggestions and seeking definition elsewhere, even while testing those identities out on me to see what my response is (to make sure I still love her through all of her costume changes).

Because she was partially raised by wolves MetaFilter, she has glommed on to the idea of letting her current self-image and clothing choices talk with one another, which is reflected with each purging of her closet. She really does have more confidence when she has chosen an outfit that she feels expresses that day's/week's self. I can't think of it as type so much as experimental identity cosplay--entertaining until I find she has stolen my old Docs again--and I'm pretty sure that under all of the self-typing, there's a person becoming strong enough to know that yeah, growth and change are scary, and that trying things on for a while might help her manage the process.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:20 PM on February 8 [40 favorites]


Telling someone they're a type has a way of determining what they're behavior is, if especially if they're the highly impressionable type. I feel like giving teachers tools to put kids into buckets to manage them seems effective at the time but isn't great at kids room to develop into something on their own.
posted by bleep at 6:21 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


a series of essential identities that express themselves in certain behaviors — speaking to the manager, reading David Foster Wallace, breaking up with someone who writes for The Cut

Just checking, this is all one type, right?
posted by escabeche at 6:50 PM on February 8 [6 favorites]


I enjoyed this, OP. Thanks!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:51 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]


This started out like it might be interesting and then... well, I’m the type of person who isn’t interested in parenting.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:54 PM on February 8 [12 favorites]


It's not really about parenting though right? Ifs also choosing how one wants to live and identify - are you the type to be or the type to do? Are you kind if you do not exhibit any kind behaviours?
posted by vespertinism at 8:05 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]


It's not that often I read an essay with a thesis I agree with when casually stated, but find deeply problematic in almost every aspect of its elaboration such that, upon reading, I find myself intensely suspicious of its author's motivation and reasoning.

Brooks doesn't establish — and, in fact, inadvertently provides evidence against — his argument that the embrace of a personality type is a self-imposed straitjacket. It's much more likely that this acts as a provisional framework for evaluating one's past and future choices. Which is to say, it's a form of self-determined structured behavior and subject to revision.

Brooks entirely ignores the possibility that the embrace of a "type" will act as a means of rationalizing good behavior. This is, all else equal, as likely as rationalizing bad behavior and, as it happens, suuported by my personal observation of human behavior.

Brooks's argument is most compelling when applied to situations where types are externally decided and imposed. There is something very dystopic about a society where everyone is sorted into personality shapes early in life and pressed into the corresponding slots. But essential to that argument is the idea that "types" can be externally imposed by society, which mortally undermines his assertion that behavior, and thus identity, is self-determined. This is the self-contradiction central to his argument: that behavior is mostly (or entirely?) self-determined... yet somehow the embrace of personality typology undermines that?

Furthermore, this incoherence points to the subtextual political philosophy. There is, shall we say, two types of people: that, when making normative arguments about behavior, there are those who allow for the complex interplay between the personal and social constructions of identity, and those who insist each person is entirely self-determined. The latter is the equivalent to the just-world fallacy.

The thing is, sometimes the embrace of self-determination is liberating when the imposition of personality typology has been suffocating. But, other times, the embrace of personality typology is liberating when the imposition of an ideology of self-determination has been suffocating — which it often can be when there are, in fact, substantial constraints upon choice. I submit that this is true most of the time for most of us. Yet, also, frequently we're gaslighted into believing we have fewer choices than we actually do, and therefore a sense of self-determination can be empowering.

What seems clear to me is that these are alternate modes of self-understanding, each with great utility under differing circumstances. Both should be available to us.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:47 PM on February 8 [18 favorites]


You're the type of guy that gets suspicious.
I'm the type of guy that says puddin' is delicious.
posted by MrBadExample at 9:19 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


I never learned to type.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:25 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


I find this interesting to think about in that when I read literature on persuasion and books on habits, they both stress framing a person as a type as a gateway to behaviour. Call people regular voters before you make that turnout phone call, and they're more likely to vote. Think of yourself as a professional musician, get some motivation to practise cause that's what pro musicians do.

Hmmm.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:30 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


I really enjoyed this piece, and I don’t think I was predestined to enjoy it.

Then again, I also enjoyed it when it was the central premise of an Aimee Mann single a quarter-century ago, so maybe it is my nature.

Gave me a lot to think about, in any case. Thank you for sharing this.
posted by armeowda at 9:36 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


I read somewhere that there are two types of people: those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don't.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 10:31 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]


I mean, I believe that it's behavior that is most important, and that we have some freedom of choice over our behavior.

But we can choose wisely or poorly, and in order to do so, one must have some awareness of what is possible and what is not. Ignoring constraints on choice implies some choices will be made to attempt the impossible or, at the very least, crucial distinctions in utility among the possible are obscured by the great variations in scale of utility across all that is both possible and impossible.

Likewise, believing good choices to be unavailable when they are indeed available badly damages one's ability to reason about one's choices.

I don't mean to belabor the point, but I find it upsetting when people insist that one or the other perspective is either universally objectively true or (more reasonably) universally useful to assume to be true until proven false. But freedom of choice varies widely by environment, circumstance, and by the individual.

Putting this delicately, there are likely a number of factors that shape the choices Brooks's son has made and will make and waving away those influences as if Brooks's son could make and remake himself from scratch at any moment is not doing him any favors. That expectation by others can be a terrible burden. Equally burdensome can be expectations by others to conform to type.

Brooks's son, like each of us, is best served by a support system that encourages him to explore these notions of self-identity in ways that encourage and reward good choices. Sometimes that will come from an awareness of where he isn't constrained, sometimes it will come from an awareness of where he is.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:49 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]


Believing good choices to be unavailable when they are indeed available badly damages one's ability to reason about one's choices...

Putting this delicately, there are likely a number of factors that shape the choices Brooks's son has made and will make and waving away those influences as if Brooks's son could make and remake himself from scratch at any moment is not doing him any favors. That expectation by others can be a terrible burden. Equally burdensome can be expectations by others to conform to type.


It's clearly true that individuals have a lot of constraints, both internal and external over their own future behavior. I also agree that it's valuable to understand what constraints apply to you, as best you can.

However, speaking mostly for myself, I try not to characterize what constraints or what "types" apply to other people, especially out loud. Expressing that someone else is constrained is inherently a kind of criticism, and criticism can hurt, even if it's true. If it's wrong it's really offensive. And if I'm talking about someone else's constraints, it's probably either wrong, or else they already knew without me saying it.

(The parent-child relationship is maybe kind of exceptional with regard to both how much you might be able to contribute to your child's understanding of themselves, and to how much it matters that you can make the best possible decisions based on an accurate understanding of them.)
posted by value of information at 11:39 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


There are two types of people, those who know all the philosophical argument branches and those who are doomed to reinvent it (and make noob mistakes doing so)
posted by polymodus at 1:23 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]


I'm the type of person who will comment on this article without reading it.
posted by chavenet at 3:23 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]


There are two types of people -- Human Letters Font and Silvestre Bodies Font.
posted by kyrademon at 3:29 AM on February 9 [7 favorites]


There are two types of people in the world: those who can extrapolate from incomplete data sets.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 5:28 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]


My favourite joke of that format: there's two types of people, those who crave closure.

On the topic, this is something which is very relevant to me. See, when I was a teenager I hated public speaking and was fundamentally shy and reserved. That was just who I was.

Fast-forward to mid-twenties and I get drunkenly persuaded to join a theatre company, which I do, and end up going on stage some seven or eight times. And I love it. But I'm still the same shy and reserved person inside.

So anyway, the lesson I took away from the experience was: do not let decisions you made when you were a teenager about the kind of person you are define your life forever. You could be missing out on something you'd really get a lot out of. Even if that thing is as trivial as a genre of music or something. Go on, revisit it. Worst case, you confirm your assumptions. Best case, you get to explore a whole new thing.
posted by Acey at 5:32 AM on February 9 [16 favorites]


Is "non-binary" a type or a rejection of types? Is "Millennial" a type? How about "bi-polar"? "Borderline"? "Racist?"
"INTJ?" "Genius?" "Job creator?" "Skeptic?" "Reditor?"
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:46 AM on February 9


I went skydiving at 60 because I’d frequently been told I “wasn’t the type.”

It’s never too late to try on a new person. We contain multitudes.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:57 AM on February 9 [13 favorites]


This article reads to me like the author identified a trend in modern society, decided that the trend was new and didn't previously exist even though it's basically as old as time, and then blamed the trend for a young person's bad behavior instead of assuming the young person had individual, personal reasons for acting out. I guess I'll stop short of saying there is a particular type of person who does this, but...I certainly see it a lot.
posted by capricorn at 7:35 AM on February 9 [9 favorites]


There is a lot of type-ing running wild in my life, between corporate culture Myers-Briggs stuff and horoscope memes in my social circle. I loved this piece as a reminder that not only can I step out of my comfort zone, I can rethink what my comfort zone is. I don’t see it as a nature/nurture thing, more that whatever your influences or preferences are, you are not a “type,” you are a person. It’s funny to me how I resist using type phrasing in writing for style reasons but fall into it so easily in thinking about my own life.
posted by sallybrown at 7:42 AM on February 9 [8 favorites]


I don't know that he's assuming typing is new, so much as noting its current prevalence and its immediate, strong impact on his son. We can extrapolate from that little relationship to how it affects other parts of society. It's an essay and an illustration, not a claim to a new philosophy.
posted by pykrete jungle at 7:54 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]


It’s never too late to try on a new person. We contain multitudes.

And that while telling stories to ourselves about our selves may be necessary, those stories may be wrong, incomplete, and temporary--and may not serve us well in all situations.

It’s never too late to try on a new person. We contain multitudes.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:39 AM on February 9 [7 favorites]


So anyway, the lesson I took away from the experience was: do not let decisions you made when you were a teenager about the kind of person you are define your life forever.

I guess I tend to work from the assumption that we're all works in progress for pretty much all of our lives, but never more so than our so-called formative years, which I guess I'd argue go all the way to our mid-twenties. Or as a therapist friend puts it -- the shit you're still working on at age twenty-seven is the shit you'll probably be working on for the rest of your life. So yeah, it annoys the hell out of me when people I know start deciding that some kid (sometimes their own) is a lost cause, a no-hoper, or just destined toward some less than hopeful future because the current version of said kid isn't shining with promise and positivity. Fuck that shit, some of the best adults I know were complete horror shows at some point in their coming of age.

I'm not arguing that we're all the same inside, that we're all equal in our essence. Because we're not. We all arrive at the proverbial table infused with different stuff (whether from our genes or our spirits or whatever). But that stuff isn't our destiny. It will impact our destiny, but so will all the external factors that we'll have to negotiate one way or another.

So yeah, as another friend (a parent of three now grown kids) recently put it -- "the worst thing you can do is fix on where your kid is at any particularly point in their life and decide that's who they are. They're not. Even if where they currently are is a great place. Because it won't last. It can't, it's not supposed to. Drama will happen one way or another. What you want, in the end, is somebody who can handle drama."

From the last paragraph of the piece:

We are out here doing things, in other words, before we are things.

so ... actions precede essence, I guess. Although I'd argue that essence also sometimes precedes action (ie: Michael Jordan was never going to be a jockey). What it is, is a ceaseless dynamic, though sometimes (ie: those coming of age years) nature has that dynamo churning with more intensity than others.

Speaking of which -- this is amazing: Mura Masa & slowthai: Deal Wiv It (US TV Debut)
posted by philip-random at 9:44 AM on February 9 [7 favorites]


philip-random, really well said! And everyone, really, I liked the discussion here a lot.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, thanks to finding a therapist who is a really good fit so I’m working through a lot of a childhood traumas I’ve been protecting myself from for a long time.

I’m 35 and the person I’ve become was only possible by finding the permission I needed not to be the type of person my parents insisted I was. I could only do that after my dad died ten years ago because his beliefs about my actions making me a certain type of daughter were so strong.

I don’t know if this makes sense since I feel kind of overwhelmed with the whole process of finding out the stories that were told to me about me were mostly untrue, and that I’m the reliable source about what type of person I am, not the other people in my life who are judging actions but not motivations.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:19 AM on February 9 [17 favorites]


One of the things I really appreciate about my upbringing is that we were strictly forbidden to use labels. "My brother is a jerk" was always corrected to "Josh did a jerky thing". It's a mental habit that is good.
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:10 AM on February 9 [9 favorites]


(The parent-child relationship is maybe kind of exceptional with regard to both how much you might be able to contribute to your child's understanding of themselves, and to how much it matters that you can make the best possible decisions based on an accurate understanding of them.)

oh, is that why I can't sleep?
posted by eirias at 11:51 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


It's not really about parenting though right?

I mean, other than that it's totally about parenting? It's all about this guy's frustration with his kid, and then the conclusion is about how he became a parent in spite of his own self-definition, which is possibly even less interesting.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:46 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]


Brooks' formula appears to be just as reductive and potentially damaging as the one he decries. People will change over time regardless of what they do. Some of the things I've done over my life have caused me to head in certain directions. Some haven't even if I did them repeatedly for years. Environmental factors over which I have no control are as determinative or more so of the collection of traits that make up the current version of me.

"You never step in the same river twice." I'm thankful for that truth.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:23 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


"My efforts to convey this idea — that your behavior determines what kind of person you are, and not the other way around — have made me worry, for the first time, that culture might be damaging the youth."

Talk about slow learner... (taker) culture been damaging the youth (and all other age groups) for about 18 thousand years.

"I don’t know if you’ve checked in on tween culture lately, but it is roughly divided into two parts: incredibly boring rap songs about anti-anxiety medication and short internet videos about types of people."

I'm the type of person who usually stops reading when encountering this kind of condescending bullshit.

I pity that kid.
posted by holist at 4:25 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


It always frustrates me when someone I know constrains themselves this way. And the fixed mindset is almost always used to constrain and avoid effort to change. Whether it's "I'm just not good with numbers and math" or "I'm just not musically inclined" or some other belief that everyone with a learned skill was born to it, and they just weren't born with the "natural talent" so why bother.
Even when I use myself as an example, listing those skills I learned, uncovered, or otherwise developed late in life that I was previously convinced I could never do, I'm met with "You're so lucky that you're the type of person who can try new things".
posted by rocket88 at 8:54 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


And the fixed mindset is almost always used to constrain and avoid effort to change.

Yes, but "I'm Mad That My Kid is Re-purposing School-backed Fixed-vs.-Growth Mindsets Framing to Ignore His Responsibilities and Avoid Making an Effort" is a terrible headline. (I say this as a skill-valuing, lifelong learner parent who is frustrated by how adept my children are at hacking school, and using the language of type as excuses for not doing the damn work and not valuing mastery for its own sake.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:36 PM on February 10


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