I’ve been asked a few times where I got the idea for the four shapes I selected to represent the four Keirseyan temperaments. As a reminder, they are:
About 25 years ago I started doing CEU[i] workshops for therapists, social workers, counselors, teachers, teacher aides and parents in child management techniques and temperament. They go hand in hand, by the way. A technique that may be useful for the Square may have no effect on the Star, and sometimes may make things worse. The name of the workshop was “Kids Come in All Shapes.” Participants learned about the four temperaments of children, and left after 6 hours training with some new techniques for each temperament.
Back then, I was a maturing student of Gestalt psychology, thanks to David Keirsey. Gestalt is the German word for form or shape, and it designates “wholeness,” a fundamental concept for this long forgotten and much more humane theory of human psychology.
By the way, for those who may be interested, Gestalt psychologists believe “modern” psychology isn’t so modern. We believe the “elemental psychologists” (the other 99%!) look at human behavior and personality inside out – literally. The “elementalists” see human psychology as made up of different “parts” or “elements,” and it’s the parts that make up the whole. Holists (Gestaltists), like me and Dr. Keirsey, believe wholes are fundamental, and much, much more than the sum of it’s parts.
More than that, the current psychiatric elementalists believe that the cause of poor behavior can be understood by looking through a microscope, whether it’s measuring “neurotransmitters” (chemicals), or by “decoding” a persons “genome.” It’s all nonsense – and I’ll be writing more about this soon – however, it is today’s “modern science” for most professionals, and lay people.
Anyway, I wanted to develop a temperament metaphor using the wholeness idea. At the time, there were a few other temperament metaphors for children, usually animals. They included beaver and bear for Guardians, dolphin and unicorn for the Idealist, the owl for Rationals, and the fox (and monkey) for the Artisans. They were okay, but I didn’t use them too much. Both kids and parents often liked or didn’t like one animal over another, regardless of temperament. Instead, I came up with the idea of geometric shapes. They are unique from one another, and each alone has no particular meaning or value. Shapes are neutral.
So, I started with the Artisans, about 40% of all earthlings (I was still calling them “SP’s” way back then). I thought of a star almost immediately for the Artisan. There are an abundance of stars in the sky, no two the same, but all of them must shine, each a little differently. While the star symbol I chose is yellow, Stars come in all colors. The most stylish of all temperaments, Stars also need a stage and must have an audience to appreciate their art – even the quiet ones. So, without much ado, young Artisans became Stars for me.
Squares, about half the Earth’s population, came to me quickly too. A square has a solid foundation, and all right angles. Two squares next to each other make a rectangle, rectangles make foundations, and foundations are the building blocks of our society. I used black and white for the Square because there is very little “grey area” from the perspective of the Guardian. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, period, so says the Square. Also, though a little outdated, the slang use of the word “square” seems to fit for the work first-play later, serious minded, routine oriented, industrious, diligent Guardian.
The quest for self-actualization by the Idealist lead me to the Sphere (I made a silly choice in the beginning and used the term “Circle” instead of Sphere because I thought sphere was too hard to pronounce!). The Sphere must be whole. A Sphere is symmetrical, symbolic of many Idealists yearning for authenticity. There’s also a “glow” to the Sphere not found in other shapes, and points to the natural warmth these rare individuals provide. Though I chose red to signify the heart they tend to wear on their sleeves, Spheres can glow in different colors when engaged with other people. Keirsey has said that the world could use more Idealists. He was right about that too. Only about one in twenty among us are the imaginative, harmonious, people-loving Spheres.
The cube took a long time coming, for some reason. I thought of a few geometric shapes including a triangle, a pentagon, a cone, a pyramid, even a cylinder. I settled on the cube, after a while, for the often odd young rational. Some of you may remember the “Borg” from the 2nd generation Star Trek series. This half human, half machine, impeccably logical, emotion-free entity traveled the Universe – in a cube. Ironically, a cube has the unique property of “changing shapes” right in fromt of you. That is, if you stare at a three dimensional cube on a two dimensional page long enough, you’ll notice that sometimes the cube points to the left, and then, just as quickly, it points to the right.[ii]
Once I decided on these shapes, the rest was easy. At my workshops, attendees where expected to know their own temperament when they arrived, or soon afterward. I gave them a nametag with the appropriate shape, and for the next six hours we had some fun, had some great discussions, and the participants left with new ways to interact with their children, and a new perspective about themselves too. I did this, off and on, for the next 20 years in dozens of foster care and residential facilities in California.
Then, a little more than two years ago, David Keirsey and I went out to lunch. It was our first meeting in nearly 30 years. I told him what I had been doing, I gave him some of my material, and I told him about the shapes – or forms – that I had been using for each temperament. I was a little nervous, as you might imagine.
He didn’t like Star, in the beginning. I told him the metaphor was about the star on stage, and their need to shine. “Oh,” he said, “that’s what you mean. I like that.” He liked the Square for Guardians, and he really liked the Cube for the Rationals. I told him I was using the term “circle” for “sphere,” and my reasoning to do so. He found my reasoning – that sphere was hard to pronounce – rather weak. “It’s not so hard to pronounce,” he said with a grin, and a little sarcasm, “listen. Sphere.” So, sphere it is. He also said: “Am I the first to notice that the Cube and the Sphere are three dimensional?” He was, other than me. “The extra dimension,” he said, “is imagination.” Right again, Dr. Keirsey, right again.
I had his blessings, finally, and that meant a great deal to me. I also went over the slogans I created for the four shapes. His son Mark was with us for that, and they both approved. They are:
STARS – “Do your own thing!”
SPHERES – “To thine own self be true”
CUBES – “Looking for a better idea”
SQUARES – “Longing for belonging”
So, to the point, what are these “techniques” that I’ve been talking about, and how are they used with temperaments? Well, first, I’ll give some details about the observable behavior for each of the four shapes. I’ll start with the Stars, the most “troubling” of the young temperaments.
[i] Continuing Education Units – This is required annual training for most professionals. More here.
[ii] This phenomenon is called – fittingly enough – a “Gestalt.” You can see more Gestalt images here, and you can read about Getalt principles here.
NEXT TIME: Temperament Traits – STARS