Saturday, September 26, 2009

Steiner's Four Temperaments (aka the Medieval Humors)

Part of studying to be a Waldorf teacher includes learning about the four temperaments. As my father, a gifted medievalist and renaissance scholar, quickly noted, these are simply a reintroduction of the Medieval Humors. Though thankfully, our doctors no longer believe we should be bled to remove the excess choleric in us, nor plunged in an ice bath to startle the phlegmatic. I now see myself using this information when working with the children in my house, and when observing friends and colleagues. It is one of many tools for understanding a general tonality of a person, and for learning to accept differences. These differences can be so immense, and so basic. For instance, how we hear, how we interpret, our ability to sit still, our length of interest, and how to stimulate this last...

I see that my Leo and my elder female boarder, L, are definitely melancholic dominant. They are tall and willowy, intensely emotional, detail oriented, and potentially slow to get moving. When there's a crisis, emotions flow and sulking may ensue. They express this tendency in their own individual ways -- Leo is particularly sulky, brooding, and heavy to get out of bed in the morning, resistant to change and occasionally imobile. L is wildly emotional, feels everything as a personal attack, quick to tears, distraught. Apparently she is quite attentive to her school work, and has carefully and conscientiously decorated her room, surrounding herself with her own cocoon of emotional reassurance.

Gaetan has also a tendency towards melancholic: careful, detailed, discreet, tall and slender; he reacts emotionally but holds it all in, till he is nearly shaking with frustration and anger.

A typical melancholic adult might be your careful and long-winded professor who slowly and clearly explains the same idea to you in a multitude of ways. Precise, didactic, thorough. Either, you can relate to this type of person, and revel in his magnificent grasp of detail and the tremendous clarity he offers, allowing you to take the best notes you've ever taken in a class. Or, you fall asleep as he starts in on the third version of his discussion.

Or perhaps, you've a gentle and conscientious dentist who revels in rebuilding your broken tooth, working with the care and detail of the most gifted artist/scientist. She might, in her spare time, embroider a highly detailed wall calendar that you assume her grandmother made, but in fact, discover was her winter project.

Put next to them our other boy, M. Here is the epitomy of a choleric: short, compact, lively, quick to take umbrage, quick to initiate plans and projects, ambitious, direct, focused, revelling in challenges. Nothing will get him down! No one will beat him! He's up for anything. He needs little sleep, eats and stores his food on his tummy (and as an adult on his chest). He moves through life like a cross between a race car and a tank, pummeling much in his path. But, he gets things done. He doesn't mince his words. He is efficient, forward-looking, and perhaps just a bit egotistical, or you might interpret him this way as he's not necessarily looking right and left to see if he's done any damage to his entourage in his head-long flight forward.

Think of Sarkozy, or Hillary Clinton. We need cholerics, as otherwise, we might never get up and do things. The status quo would hold too dearly to us. A shove forward is a good thing. Ambition, challenges, clarity. These are strong virtues. And, getting over your anger as quickly as you express it. This too is a useful trait. No wallowing in emotional turmoil and angst.

I'm a dominant Sanguine. This is the personality that revels in the senses. Emotional, but fleeting as well. Deeply sensitive, sincerely touched and weeping at a funeral one day, I'm a Scarlet O'Hara the next, up and ready to move forward. Interested in the arts, revelling in beauty and the sensual, I can be creative, enthusiastic, light and social. I discover people, listen, ask questions, laugh, dance. On the flip side, I can become overwhelmed by the numerous aspects of the world and the people in it that interest me. I can be over-extended, and distracted. But I can also turn on a dime, be attentive to my entourage, hear the nuances expressed in voice or body language. As I child I danced, sang and loved artistic pursuits. I learned languages, music, history and a world of science fiction and adventure stories.

When I meet a fellow sanguine, I feel the click in a way that is quite amazing. My mother is dominant sanguine, one of the reasons we get along so easily. But so are many of my friends. We are generally people in motion, not as slender as the melancholics, but with perhaps more muscle tone.

The last temperament is one I've but little of: the phlegmatic. This is the person who is unflappable, calm in all crises, content to have a roof over his head and good food on the table. He is steady, assured, gifted at calmly attacking a complicated math problem that will take weeks to solve. He will state things as they are, with little emotional inflection. You can count on him, he is a good and faithful friend. However, getting him moving forward out of his comfortable cocoon requires thought, and creativity on the part of the teacher, parent, friend. The phlegmatic will have a tendency towards putting on weight, and will have remarkably few wrinkles on his face.

We all have all four in us, but in general have a tendency towards one or the other. It is rare to be equally balanced. And we are drawn to different temperaments for different reasons. My vintner has a strong tendency towards the melancholic (as did my father) but sufficient sanguine in him to not be driven insane by my love of conversation and stimulation. I am the light to his dark. I flutter like a butterfly and put him in motion, as well as in touch with feelings that he might have bottled up by preference a long time ago. I understand and enjoy cholerics -- often this will be the person who has little tact, but a heart of gold. They are quick to anger, but also quick to find a solution, help, be there. They are good leaders, and great friends in a crisis.

Jonas' teacher last year was a wonderful phlegmatic -- gifted at not saying too much. He was calm, present, sensitive to the needs of his students, rarely raised his voice, and knew just what to teach to keep them interested, but not overwhelmed.

This year, his teacher is a dominant sanguine. I appreciate her as well, finding her easy to talk to and relate to. I know that she has a tendency -- as do I -- to talk a lot, to be interested in everything, to jump all over the place in a conversation, leaping onto tangents and ideas as they pop out of the air or her head. She's learning to tone this down for her little charges, and I'm confident she'll manage.

The new accountant at the school is a calm phlegmatic -- perfect! and my dentist is a marvelously detailed and attentive melancholic who takes the time necessary to do a perfect job. What a privilege for us all.

So, whether I use these personality sketches to help me handle my brood of pre-teens at home, or to adjust my converstion with friends and colleagues in my professional and personal life, they are aids. Just a stroke more information to assist me in advancing through this life.

1 comment:

Zuleme said...

I was reminded of your post on Chronos time yesterday when Olof had a appointment for a hair cut. He was concentrating on the project in hand, knowing I was watching the clock and would tell him when he had to leave. Probably one thing I enjoyed so much about our time in France, I was free from that duty.