As a psychologist, I’m not much on typologies. They assume all people fit nicely into one of several personality types, and I keep seeing bell curves from the research. Nevertheless, I am going to give you here three approaches to life that I see, three mindsets if you will. I think we all have moments of all three, but when push comes to shove, I think most of us make most of our big decisions in one of three ways. I very seldom look at people in these terms in everyday life, but sometimes when I am making my big decisions, I find it useful to think about the major parties I am choosing to partner with, to make sure they usually play on my team.
Behind door number one live people whose primary purpose in life seems to be looking out for number one. They typically take more than they give, and they are generally willing to be a bit mean or deceitful if it helps them get what they want. They are inclined to be opinionated, pushy, sneaky, dramatic, inconsiderate, and unsympathetic. They may be skilled at appearing helpful and unselfish when you need them to be, but they have usually figured out that the situation will pay them to act this way. Life to them is a game, to end up with the most toys, or the least pain or something, these folks hold very little sacred in life, because to them, life is most often a game to be played.
Door number two opens up to reveal people who generally look to do their fair share. They seem to give as much as they take, and to leave things pretty much the way they found them. They are fairly even-tempered and agreeable people, and when they think about making a deal with you, their approach is usually some version of “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” If the first group could be called Game Players, these would be Team Players.
Behind the last door we find people who I think of as Game Changers, because they are trying to leave the world a better place. They can give you more than they take, because they try to give of themselves from the inside, where they seem to have some private source of renewal. They are known for their truth and grace, their honesty and kindness. They seem always to be looking forward optimistically to a better life, whether in this life or the next. They are less worried about becoming empty inside than they are about becoming dried up. They make efforts to keep believing that the ones who give the most in life end up with the most, both in this life, and if there is one, in the next.
From my seat mentally looking at the game of life, and in my heart as I am on the field playing it, I have come to believe that most people live behind the second door, and they are the ones most often taken advantage of. They can’t easily understand how someone can go on for very long as a Game Player or a Game Changer. They can’t understand why everybody doesn’t play fair. It is also more difficult for Team Players to discern the motives of others with a different outlook. After all, both wolves and shepherds tend to present themselves as sheep, because it’s the sheep that both of them are after.
There are two times in life when it is most important to discern what type of person we are dealing with. One is when we make big decisions to partner with people, like who to go in with on a purchase, who to work for, who to work with, who to live with, who to marry, and who to guide us when we lose our way. At these times, we cut deals, and it is most important to get clear on who is giving and taking what, and who is worthy to be trusted as honest and kind.
The other time when discernment is crucial is at times of loss, when there is no one to partner with. These are the only times in life where people have much of a chance to walk through a new door, and interview people to consider playing for a different team. People do sometimes regress down to a more self-gratifying lifestyle at such times, and in fact, that is the course of least resistance. For a Game Player, evolving down involves considering playing other people by using more selfish and deceitful rules. Evolving up for both sets of Players requires embracing the people and principles of a higher-numbered door.
I of course recommend moving up to a higher life form. Whether or not there is any pie in the sky, it is just crystal clear to me that the only people who grow happier as they age are the geezers who live in the community behind door three.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach with offices in Middletown, Lexington and Shelbyville, mynewlife.com.