Month: November 2016

Your Temperament: A Gift from God

When Gerard Manley Hopkins praised God for all the “dappled things” that fill the world with glorious variety, he could have included human personalities in his list. People have extremely diverse gifts, inclinations, interests and approaches to life. Common remarks highlight these distinctive qualities: “She sure is perky!” “I can’t believe how calm he is!” “How do you get so much done so quickly?” Like the colors of the rainbow, species of plants and animals, and diverse national cultures, this variety among characters renders the world more beautiful and complete.

Although each person is unique, one may reasonably seek to summarize human personalities into general “types” in order to understand them better. One method of summary is the four temperaments: choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Such a classifying system can be a help to understanding oneself or others. When used without care, however, it can also contribute to the danger of stereotyping or oversimplifying the temperaments. Some of the four words listed above are too often used in a derogatory way, as if they necessarily had negative connotations. I have met people who say that they hate their own temperament or wish that it were different.

If you are one of those people, be reassured: not only is your temperament not a bad thing, but it has potential for great good. Your personality is simply part of the person that God made you, along with, e.g., your blood type, your skin color, and the pitch of your voice. God created your temperament for a specific purpose in His plan for you—and, yes, for all creation. In mankind’s fallen state, each temperament has its particular risks, but when trained and used properly, each can glorify God and serve other people in a way that the others cannot.

The confusion may have arisen in part from the origin of the four words. The “humors,” or bodily fluids, were once thought to determine people’s moods. Thus, a person might be “choleric” at one time and “phlegmatic” at another, depending on whether he had more choler or phlegm in him at the moment. I do not know when the names of these physical states became designations for different temperaments, but since they did, each of these words has at least two meanings. A mood and a personality are not the same, nor is someone of a given temperament always in the corresponding mood. Moods come and go, while a personality, as has been stated, is lasting and essential.

Having said all this, let’s consider each of the four temperaments in turn, iterate and respond to some popular misconceptions about them, and ponder each one’s benefits and pitfalls. Each person is different, of course; but some broad generalizations, regarded as such, can still safely apply. In setting these forth, I do not pretend to be an expert on personalities or human psychology. I am simply speaking from my own experience. I know sweet and lovable people of each of these temperaments, and you probably do as well.

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Joy of a Sketch

The little boy scampered along the edge of the blank space, his pen, as always, clutched tightly in his hand. He squatted down, frowning, not in displeasure—no one ever saw him exhibit that—but in intense concentration. Carefully he drew a thick, bold line, almost as high as his head, curving slightly at the top and the bottom. He scrambled around it and drew another line beside it, similar but curving the other way, so that the curves faced away from each other. More quickly, he scribbled some smaller lines between the two; then, satisfied with his trunk, traced atop it the jagged outline of a small cloud of leaves. In the middle of this, he drew a small half-circle, added some little sticks protruding from it, then eagerly inserted the crowning glory: three small birds peering out from the little nest. He then stepped back to watch. The birds blinked, twitched, and rose fluttering out of the nest, warbling gaily. The boy beamed and jumped in delight, watched another few moments, then scurried on to draw something else.

Thus he ever was, never anxious but never still, well known as the merriest inhabitant of that Space. Whether other, equally contented souls lived in other Spaces in the Sketch, no one could say. The Sketch was a canvas so great and wide that none of its residents could say much about it beyond their own corner or area. No one could be sure what it was a picture “of” in its entirety, only what they saw drawn around them. Seldom did any travel from one Space to another, for the Spaces were bordered by wide swaths of blank Space. Most avoided these altogether, as empty waste; but now and then, some adventurous soul would venture across from one filled Space to another, tracing a line beside him to keep from getting lost. Others, reasoning that more than mere lines could be drawn in the blank Space, decorated bits of that Space with figures and drawings of their own. These never quite matched the original Sketchings, but some bore a considerable resemblance.

In the creation of these drawings, the little boy spent his days—in the proverbial sense; for, when reminded, he did also enjoy playing with other children and with animals, and sometimes stopped to help someone carry wood or collect their turnips. If no one had ever called his attention, however, he could have devoted every waking minute to his art. This art was, after his cheerfulness, the chief reason for his reputation. Not that he could otherwise have passed quite unnoticed, for the Space where he lived was not a densely peopled one; it mostly included woods and mountains, with some little houses gathered between them. But, of all the people and animals dwelling there, few had much interest in art, and fewer still could imagine devoting so much time to it as did this child. “He was drawn with a pen in his hand,” someone would occasionally remark, by way of explanation, almost invariably to hear, “Sure he was—same as everyone! But when did you last so much as pick up yours?”

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Lady Liberty

She looks so lonely as she stands
High o’er the river’s spread,
She gazes toward the city’s heights,
A solemn gaze, and dead.

Her torch’s frozen burst of gold
Gleams in a lightless sky,
Her upraised arm ne’er seems to tire,
Though all her fire should die.

Her children gathered round her feet
Snap shots and call her name,
Yet scarcely know how her book reads
Nor tend her flickering flame.

Her right foot is upraised behind
As if she would advance,
She’d take back all her land if she
Could break her rigid stance.

But helpless she, no strength nor life
In all her copper bone;
O God! Behold her agony,
And leave her not alone!

O Lady o’er the river high,
My zeal and confidence
Is less than it was for that land
Your figure represents.

But cease ye not to lift your torch,
And lift your eyes to Him
Who kindled bright your sparkling flame
From slav’ry vile and dim.

Gaze no more on the city’s shores,
These empty lands of men;
Look humbly up to your one King
To make them free again.

My confidence may burn less bright,
My love does not, nor will:
Your King gave life-blood for your land;
Be sure He loves it still.

Whisper of the Heart

A review of Whisper of the Heart (1995), written in 2012

The animated films of Studio Ghibli have long been admired for their wild imagination, for the fantastic worlds and images they present. Examples include the exotic, staggering jungles and isolated cultures of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the elaborate da Vinci-esque technology of Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and the surreal, haunting spirit world of Spirited Away, along with others that are less than masterpieces (the whimsical loopiness of Ponyo, the beautiful ruins of Tales from Earthsea).

Yet even at their most stunningly far-fetched, Ghibli films also have a history of celebrating the details of everyday life: cooking, cleaning, planting, studying, mending, become important and precious functions, worthy of devoted attention. Most recently, The Secret World of Arrietty infused the commonplace with probably unprecedented magic and wonder.

Director Yoshifumi Kondo’s Whisper of the Heart may represent the studio’s simplest gesture of this honoring of everyday life. It moves and delights, not in another world or even a hidden magical corner, but amid the streets of Tokyo. Its heroine, a junior high school student named Shizuku (voiced in the Disney dub by Brittany Snow), never actually stumbles into a fantastic adventure, but often feels as if she has. Perhaps a film like this, amid Hollywood’s current drive for blockbusters and spectacular epics, offers American viewers something they’ve been missing.

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