The four temperaments are a tried and true aid to self-knowledge.
When I was engaged to my wife, Jane, one of the biggest discoveries I had to process was learning that she was an introvert. We were at a social function with people we both knew well and it came up that she would be happy to leave at any time. We hadn’t been there very long and I would have been happy to while away the rest of the afternoon amongst friends, so I found myself being rather surprised at the whole turn of events. Actually surprised doesn’t describe it well enough; I was shocked. After all, these were close friends.
Now, if I were an introvert myself, I likely would have realised this fact about Jane a lot sooner, but extroverts (or at least this one) seem more likely to be oblivious to the fact that some people are just not like them. Whereas the extrovert in me was energised by being around family and friends, introverts need to be alone to recharge because socialising wears them out. It’s not that introverts are shy—they can be the life of the party—it’s just that they’ll need some quiet time to recover from that party.
This discovery led me to look further into personality types and I came across the temperaments, which are the aspects of an individual’s personality that are related to behaviour and reaction. Our temperament is something we are born with and, while it is moulded through our choices and experiences, it is never completely erased. While a person is not the sum of their temperament, understanding the temperaments can lend us a vast insight into ourselves and those around us. In understanding the temperaments I came to understand that it wasn’t that those who were not like me were strange, but rather, that their strengths and weaknesses were different.
It was Hippocrates, five centuries before Christ, who is thought to have turned the basic theory of temperament into a medical theory so the names of the four temperaments actually stem from various internal fluids around the liver, heart, lungs and kidneys. The temperaments are a key to unlocking the mystery of ourselves, those we love and those whom we mix with at work and at rest. Here they are.
Sanguine – If you are fun-loving, enthusiastic and sociable then this temperament may be yours. The sanguine is extroverted, adventurous and never seems to run out of energy. Optimistic and not a grudge holder the sanguine is an all-round people person.
Choleric – The choleric is the person who gets the job done…and fast. This temperament has an energy that is ready to overcome any opposition and seems ever confident. Cholerics are born leaders who can think independently and live a disciplined life.
Melancholic – Idealistic, reflective and serious are traits of the melancholic personality type. These are often the sort of people who become great writers, composers and artists. They might take some time to form friendships, but once they do they are very faithful.
Phlegmatic – If you know someone who is diplomatic, patient and calm under pressure, then chances are they are have a phlegmatic temperament. The phlegmatic is a peacemaker who more than anything abhors conflict and confrontation.
Most people are a mix of two primary temperaments. There are a host of online temperament tests that can help you discover more about who you are (although you can likely already take a guess from the quick descriptions above). One of the better books I’ve read on the subject is The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennet. It’s certainly worth putting on your wish list for next Christmas.
Due to my own choleric/melancholic temperament it took Jane a while to understand that I had a tendency to whip out my phone mid-conversation with her to call the person whom we had just agreed needed to be contacted for whatever reason. Alternatively it has taken me a while to understand that Jane is never going to do anything like that because a phlegmatic/melancholic person such as herself needs time to plan and phrase the appropriate questions and then build up the courage to dial the number and engage in the conversation.
The aphorism “know thyself” was inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Ancient Greece. It was and still is a reminder that without knowing who we are we have little hope of really truly knowing much else. The temperaments certainly provide us with a place to begin that study.
Bernard Toutounji writes at www.foolishwisdom.com.