It has taken me more than a month to write this.
My friend, David West Keirsey, died July 30, 2013. He was 91. I’m so proud, and fortunate, to call him my friend. Up until a few years ago, he was Professor Keirsey to me, and I hadn’t seen nor spoke to him for 30 years.
As far as I know, Dr. Keirsey was humankind’s last Gestalt psychologist, and that’s something you should know. His ideas are historic, and I’ll be writing much more about them, and similar things, for the rest of my life. First, though, before I tell you more about Dr. Keirsey, I want to tell you about my friend, David, and the loves in his life.
David loved his country. He was a proud veteran of World War II. He joined the Navy in 1942. After flight training, he took his commission as a Marine fighter pilot and flew several missions in Japan towards the end of the war. He wrote in some detail about his military experience in his autobiographical essay, Turning Points.
Those times, and the depression before the war, had a lifelong impact on David, as it did with everyone from the greatest generation. He believed we were morally obligated to fight World War II, and he knew many who gave their lives protecting our freedoms. He considered himself lucky to come home, and grateful, for the rest of his life, that he did. Thank you David, for your service, from all of us.
David loved questions. For the past 18 months or so I’ve been meeting with him on Mondays for three or four hours, often with his son David Mark, talking about temperament and psychology, and many other things. I often took notes on my iPad. I put them in my “Mondays with David” file on my computer. I love asking questions, he loved answering, so our friendship grew. We had much to talk about, and it was always fun. (You can read more about this from a prior blog, here.)
At times he became frustrated, his memory sometimes needing more and more of his depleted energy. When I arrived for a visit I’d often ask, “how was your weekend David?” He’d reply, with a smile, “I don’t remember, but I’m sure it was fine.” Once he added, again with a smile, “. . . although I could try to retrieve the information for you if you wish.” It takes energy to retrieve information. At 91, you have the privilege of choosing where you want to spend your energy. It was a polite question anyway. I always knew where he was every weekend. He was with his wife and his family. He cherished his weekends.
Once we started talking about something he was interested in, he became focused, taking his memory to task, retrieving important ideas, if triggered by the right question. Precision, more than anything, was his forte, organizing and analyzing ideas to a depth only a very few can imagine, simplicity his reasoned pursuit, efficiency always a welcome bi-product. He never stopped “tinkering,” often spending hours at the computer, changing single words at a time in his many essays about temperament and “madness.”
I put madness in quotes because, well, David wouldn’t have it any other way. Professor David West Keirsey was so much more than temperament theory. His humane, holistic, and thoughtful explanation of “madness,” is above all else, his legacy to humankind, as far as I’m concerned. His seminal work, Dark Escape, provides our species, for the first time in human history, a way out of the “madness” of modern day psychology and psychiatry. I will be writing much more about this.
David loved to read. He read everything. I mean everything. I mean anything, and everything, and that started when he was a seven year old, and it never stopped. The last time I saw him he was reading a favorite novel, for the fifth time. Why? “I might find something new – and I like it!” he said. This wasn’t unusual. From Turning Points:
I began reading when I was seven. Read (most of) a twelve volume set of books my parents bought, Journeys through Bookland. Read countless novels thereafter, day in and day out. I educated myself by reading books. Starting at age nine my family went to the library once a week, I checking out two or three novels which I would read during the week. Then, when I was sixteen, I read my father’s copy of Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. I read it over and over again, now and then re-reading his account of some of the philosophers. (Long afterwards I read his magnificent eleven volumes—The Story of Civilization. I also have read his The Lessons of History many times, this being his brilliant summary of the eleven volumes.)
I mention Durant’s book The Story of Philosophy because it was a turning point in my life, I to become a scholar as did Durant, thereafter reading the philosophers and logicians—anthropologists, biologists, ethologists, ethnologists, psychologists, sociologists, and, most important, the etymologists, all of the latter—Ernest Klein, Eric Partridge, Perry Pepper, and Julius Pokorny—of interest to me now as then.
So, I said to myself, who better to ask questions than someone who has read everything – over and over? He had so many useful answers. I’ll be sharing them with you too.
David loved words. Not as a wordsmith or author, though he was certainly both. He loved words as an etymologist – the only one I’ve ever met. He often said he may be the only one left. David studied words. From Turning Points:
I became a scholar, one of three boys in the scholarship society in 1942. I took a course in word study. I have studied words ever since, even during the war, pasting lists of words on the bathroom mirror wherever I stayed. Why etymology (word signs) instead of linguistics (word sounds)? Because word sounds shorten with use becoming only remnants of what they were, while word signs are written and therefore remain the same. My interest was in what is written, not in what is spoken.”
Many times on Mondays, triggered by something we were talking about, we’d go upstrairs and sit at his computer in his comfortable, book-filled library – me to his left, him behind the keyboard – looking at an online etymology site, researching a word. He called it “fun” and, wouldn’t you know it, so did I.
David loved kids. He started working with troublesome teenagers at the Verdemont Boys Ranch as a young psychologist, figuring out ways to manage these boys, and to help their families. He worked in schools most of his career, doing the same, training thousands of teachers and counselors and psychologists in methods that work, not theories that don’t. He began collecting the many techniques to manage and counsel adults and children that was to become the core of his one-of-a-kind, and highly successful Counseling Psychology graduate program at California State University, Fullerton.
He wrote some remarkable essays in defense of children, and every parent and professional should read them. So, please, do that. You can read Drugged Obedience in the School here, and The Evil Practice of Narcotherapy for Attention Deficit here, and The Great ADD Hoax, here. There are many other important and useful essays you will find at the same site.
His solution to helping troubled and troublesome children? “Be nice to them, and keep them away from those drugs.” We had a lot in common about kids. I’ll also be writing about useful child management techniques, from a temperament point of view.
David loved his family. David Mark, his son and lifelong companion, joined our Monday morning conversations often, and I cherished those times in particular. A gifted computer scientist, David Mark called his father “Daddy.” He honored his father.
The two of them could, and often would, debate an obscure, yet important idea with the same passion as when the debate started 30, or 40, or even 50 years earlier. His father honored him too. Often, when it was just David and me, he would boast about his son Mark, as fathers who love their sons often do. How lucky they were to have each other. I envied them.
Every weekend David and his wife Alice went to Del Mar to meet with the rest of the Keirsey clan and, when they didn’t, family members came to their home. David and Alice traveled and vacationed with their children and grandchildren. The two of them together made sure they gave their family the best gift you can give to people you love: wonderful memories.
Mostly, David loved Alice. What was the first thing this returning WW II veteran did when he came back from the war? He married his junior college sweetheart, Alice. He admired her so. “Alice has done such a wonderful job of keeping our family together and close over the years,” he often said, with much pride.
When you walk up the circular stairs of their beautiful home you will meet all of the family. Alice has dozens of family pictures and other mementos adorned on the walls and on the stairs – and everywhere else throughout their warm, loving home. This, you can tell, is a family that cares for each other, and they are grateful to have each other to love. I recognized their family quickly. I come from one too.
Alice – he called her “babe” – from they way he liked to tell it, was a dynamo of her own when she was working in elementary schools. David said she was always the head of a department or committee or project, or part of some other crusade to care for all those kids for which she loved and cared.
They never quarreled, he told me, more than once, because, he said, more than once, “we were made for each other.” That certainly proved to be true. They were married in December, 1945. I was two months old.
Why did it take so long to write this, and anything else, for that matter? Well, honestly, I’ve been mourning my friend. Just a few days before he died, my wife and I visited David and Alice at their home. As we were leaving, I leaned over, gently grasped his hand to say goodbye, and to tell him, “I’ll see you soon, David. I have another two or three thousand more questions to ask.” Without hesitation, he replied, “Good,” and added, “I have two or three thousand more answers.”
His spirit, more than willing, his body, so weary. During some of our best conversations, he would remind me, and David Mark, “there’s still much work to be done.” Lucky for me, he trusted me with all that he has written. The answers to my questions are all there, and that’s good. I will be doing a lot more reading. It’s not the same though, and not nearly as much fun, as asking my friend, David, just a few more questions.
You can tell a lot about a person when you know the loves in his life. I admired him. I loved him too. I miss him, very much.
Mondays, for me, will never be the same.
“I just want the world to understand, there’s no such thing as ‘madness.’”
David West Keirsey