This question came up in discussion with someone who believed they knew me 28 years ago, for a period of about two years - and now claims to know me still. The other asserted that in our recent discussions over the last few months in live chat, that 'Your personality is the same' as back then.
There was an assertion by the other that "Personalities are formed as early as 3 ...you aint changed that much." Amazingly this is being said to me, who happens to be recognised in my field as having expert knowledge of personality - and who assesses personality almost daily, in a professional capacity. Anyways, the discussion continued with the insistence that because this person knew me from 28 years ago, I was the same personality today (as I was back then).
Some thoughts came to mind:
- How closely did the other really know me back then?
- How do you know if you 'know' someone?
- What does it mean to 'know' someone or their personality?
- How close do you have to be to know someone - what kind of talk or situations should be shared.
- 28 years later what does the other know of me, except what s/he learns of via a live chatroom transmitting text?
- Could s/he gain enough access to my functioning in the present to 'know reliably' and with reasonable confidence that my personality is the same as 28 years ago.
- What is personality?
- Is it formed as early as 3 - as is popularly thrown around - by idiots reading popular science mags?
It isn't what lay people think it is. But lay people don't know any different because they share the same concept common to them, which is a lay concept. So it's like a lay person saying 'blood is a red liquid'. Well yes, no one will doubt that, but when you know the extreme complexity of the structure, physiology, and biochemistry of blood - it being a red liquid becomes so simplistic it is useless. But will the average man in the street investigate of his own volition what this red liquid is. I doubt very much. The average man has far more important and mundane things to do.
And similarly with personality, is it simply just people's behaviour and thinking styles? Oh it isn't? Well on the surface it is - like the redness of blood. The real psychological concept of personality is so complex that it still boggles the minds of many trained psychiatrists. Personality is about a collection of fairly stable styles of thinking, reacting, managing emotions, interacting socially - that have endured over many years. Those who knew of me as friends would have seen only a certain set of interactions and styles. So perhaps 28 years later they see similar to what they knew back then. Seeing the same 'face' of an 'object' does not mean that the other 'faces' of the object have not changed with time. In reality the whole object could have changed its form quite fundamentally. So flipping the 'object' on a familiar surface might reveal that if you roll it along, it rolls quite differently - and that's when the 'other' would see changes i.e. the whole thing would not roll as it once did.
And personalities are not formed as early as three. Temperaments can be seen at age of three, but that is not personality. So in reality our personalities are not truly formed until late adolescence. And adolescence is not strictly defined by chronological age. Doctors and lawyers for example tend to have delays in their adolescence. So, using a concept loosely is bound to lead to misunderstanding? Misunderstanding - a misunderstanding that is shared by the masses, who not knowing better feel comfortable with it.
Can personality change? Sure it can. What can change personality? Very important events, traumatic events, education, religion, adopting a new culture, influential persons, adopting a new philosophy, brain disorders and mental disorders (the list is not complete). So while the other was saying my personality is the same as 28 years ago, I'm thinking how could s/he know off all that I've experienced. How could s/he know about how my thinking and interacting has changed? I myself have seen me change from 28 years ago. I'm not saying that all of my personality has changed. Yes, I expect some traits to remain the same and some to change.
I had come from a science background so I was always inclined from back then to link things up to evidence. I would try very hard to gather evidence to support what I believe or say. That bit has remained. That would lead others to think I'm 'stubborn'. Why? Because I wouldn't accept opinions simply on authority. I would demand that authoritative opinion be based on evidence that I could ‘touch’ and ‘examine’ for myself. Well I've come to gather that most people do not operate like that. They give in on the word of some figure in authority. So by contrast I was 'stubborn'. But there have been some changes. I've become much more stubborn!! I'm now brutally stubborn. But in all that there is a very soft spot i.e. show me the evidence..and show me the reasoning, then I'm soft as clay.
I've always had a problem with stomaching bullshit. My threshold for tolerating rubbish has become lower. So, these days I'm more likely to say 'That's utter rubbish'. I used to be afraid to offend friend, family, or employer by speaking my mind. Now my philosophy is that those who cannot withstand my speaking my mind should get out of my way. It's my world too and I deserve to express my opinion (albeit lawfully).
Respect for authority
I've become more 'disrespectful of authority'. And I can see why that has happened. Too often I've seen very senior people talking utter crap! I mean 'cuhraap'! I mean people in high places with all the letters and positions behind their names, lacking the very basics of thinking skills. England in the last few years has seen many experts taken down. Thank god for courts - the real testing ground for logical thought. No I’m not suggesting the courts are perfect, so calm down.
Thinking and expression
Mainly in the domains of thinking and expression. I think more widely about things before coming to conclusions. I never used to do that way back then. And what about my thinking skills? Do I think I'm superior? No that's not it. Can a person evaluate himself relative to others and say 'Well actually I do have better skills in this or that area', without attracting labels of being arrogant or narcissistic? And take IT skills - I certainly have much better skills than most average people around me. This is fact that can be tested - nothing to do with boasting or being arrogant. So that's another thing, I'm no longer afraid to be called names. And there is a way to call names without calling names that is very interesting. Like when you don't like what somebody says, you go "That's sad". In reality this is not about calling the situation sad. It is hurling some kind of abuse. Or saying to someone that 'You need help', because you resent and confront what rubbish they're talking about.
Friends and acquaintances
I've become more willing to lose friends and acquaintances by knowing that if I speak my mind I might lose them. As you become older, you see life in a different way. When younger, numbers of 'friends' meant a whole lot. Now it doesn't bother me. Those who would have been considered friends are now largely annoying. Why? I'm no longer in need of the approval of a large group of people - that I used to call 'friends'. In general I don't see many people around who can evaluate things along similar lines - as I do. So is my way of evaluation right? Yes it is, actually. It is based on foundations of truth, evidence, justice, fairness, and cutting through the bush to core issues. Well..ooooh all that stuff makes me not likeable to the majority - and do I care a rats buttocks? Like heck no.
I've also become disrespectful of systems that profess to care. Why? Because these systems invariably care only for their own arses. They like individuals have a fundamental block - they can't seem to put themselves in the shoes of 'the individual' and imagine what it might be like. So in the health care system for example, people are treated as objects. Whoohoo...hang on. I'm not saying that all health systems are like that 100% of the time. But there is a sub-group of people who are treated with contempt i.e. the elderly, the learning disabled and the mentally ill. Around 1992 I wrote to an eminent academic body that ought to have had an interest in elderly people being treated with contempt. There response was to send me back to my employers. Like hello...giving the perpetrator of the crime to mend its ways? Hellooooh...this is real world. And 15 years later a fancy report from some think tank organisation comes out telling all of England what I new way back. Needless to say, how many people must have been waxed off in those years.
Contempt for cogs in wheels. Yes there are people who become parts of organisations and merely go along like cogs in wheels. Organisations - especially in a social democracy like England - promote this kind of thing. And these cogs in wheels are truly willing to secure food and shelter at any cost for themselves and their families. So when they see Cuhraap (aka crap) going on they turn a blind eye and have visions of family starving, house being re-possessed and losing all their precious valuables. Oh yeah...how many out there are really willing to lose it all for a cause that is to stop evil? You might put up your hand now, but when the time comes to act, it would be like what happened when it was crunch time with UN Resolution 1441. You don't know about that!? Too bad for you - live a blinkered and happy existence.
Pursuit of happiness
That leads me to happiness. It is like a bloody addiction. Everybody wants an easy happy life - except me of course. Oooh waw...now I'm a misfit...name calling again. No. This is what I've become. I am contemptuous of happiness. I now embrace self-fulfilment. What's that? It means happiness and unhappiness are there to be had on the path to something that is even bigger. Ooooooh...now I'm grandiose. Adjectives...adjectives. To what end. Be gone.. The future of our fragile human race is at stake..and people are bent on their individual happiness, when the most intelligent and sentient beings in the last 5 billion years (if you're not Christian), could self-destruct rather soon.
Well I have to admit that I was 'seriously' affected by Bertrand Russell's work 'The Conquest of Happiness' some 35 years ago. That did shape my attitudes to life and happiness and it still does.
Religion? I used to be religious at one stage, but not overly. By my late teens, I had begun to move away from religion having been influenced heavily by several philosophical works. It was also amazing how much overlaps there was between philosophy and psychology.
Currently, I feel sorry for those who are religious and they reciprocate similar feelings. It is a very grand delusion and that will come more to light in 50 years time. It was a useful scaffold for the human race. Now it is largely an obstacle. You can't say that to any particular religion though, because you could be arrested, prosecuted and locked up for inciting religious hatred or some 'cuhraap'. There is nothing in religious belief that is fundamentally different from ‘delusion’. And no, I haven’t been reading much of Richard Dawkins. Psychiatry for example has been very cautious to remain outside of debates on religion or calling religious beliefs ‘delusion’. In reality there is no demarcation for a patient who is psychotically religiously deluded from a sane patient with similar crazy beliefs. Oh I always recall my then 'friend' back in College who predicted that Jesus Christ would descend from the heavens in a spacecraft to collect 100,000 of the most faithful. Well, if it happened we never heard about it. A top secret operation by the Almighty for the chosen few.
The main facets of my being that rolled on the road of life have changed in degree but not significantly in form. So yes there is change.
So whilst I set out to with a personal bias to disprove that my personality has not changed, this analysis has led me to an important awareness - that the main facets are still the same, but may have become more defined. Perhaps my temperament has grown more visibly into personality traits. My personality has changed. The same strands exist but they've grown bigger and toughened. But this is not to say I'm the same person or same personality. I happen to know me too.