The Right Thing: Thinkers vs Feelers

Thursday, May 10, 2012 2 Comments A+ a-

Going to suspend the article discussion today and interrupt with a different topic!

A couple of days ago, I happened to be reading someone else's blog post. The author was talking about his personality type (INFP) and how people with introverted intuition can often empathize with the feelings of others. Then he talked about his father, who was a 'thinker' rather than a 'feeler' and would often make choices based on logic instead of compassion.

The article made me stop and think. As an INFJ, I have the same introverted intuition (also referred to as Ni in Jungian circles). I can often pick up on how others are feeling, and my empathy will "move" me to make certain decisions. Those decisions may be right, but they aren't always logical. On the other hand, a 'thinker' next to me can make a completely different decision based on logic. It can still be right, even if it doesn't feel right to someone else.

So the question that popped up here is - what is 'right' and what moves us to do the 'right' thing?

In today's society, the definition of "the right thing" seems to be subjective. We don't have a basic moral standard anymore. How do people know the difference between right and wrong? It used to be that folks would open their Bibles to find out, but so many people believe God to be an old-fashioned, intolerant entity that they've abandoned Him for other systems. We do have the law, which punishes us for doing something 'illegal' but doesn't otherwise provide incentive to make good choices. What about our consciences? Our personality types and feelings? Our ethics?

When you start thinking about it, doing the 'right' thing isn't easy when you can't define it. What is right for one person may not be right for another. Suffice it to say that people develop their own standards over time, based on a number of influences (family, law, religion, entertainment, experience).

Given this, what moves people to do "the right thing?" Well, according to personality type, people are either thinkers or feelers.  Not much middle ground here.  So let's look at it from that perspective.

In a general sense, thinkers often must be made aware of the need before they can tackle it. They don't possess the empathy that would move them to act. For this reason, thinkers can be labeled as cold and caring, which is not always the case. When they do act, they often make decisions based on logic and reason. Feelers, on the other hand, can often sense a need before it's recognized by others. Empathy moves us to act, but we are prone to resisting logic and are likely to do what makes sense to fill the need at the time.

Imagine a busy cafe. Someone walks in with a large, jagged tear in their clothing due to inferior materials. A feeler might immediately sense the person's discomfort, make a plea to the crowd for a needle and thread, and sew up the tear. A thinker sitting nearby might see this happen, assess the situation, call up the clothing shop and demand for the item to be made stronger so this wouldn't happen to anyone ever again. Which action is right?  Who's truly doing the right thing?

The answer, in my opinion? Both. The thinker and the feeler are both doing the right thing. They just see the situation differently and are taking different actions.  The feeler wants to make the person feel better right away. The thinker wants to prevent others from getting into the same awkward situation. Both perspectives are required to fill the need (feeling) and fix the problem (thinking).

Doing the right's not always defined, not always clear, and not always easy.

What do you think?


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May 10, 2012 at 8:43 PM delete

It's an interesting example you gave - it does show how a 'thinker' may come up with an action that is great in the long-term. And I suppose it's true that one of the values of 'thinking' is the ability to think ahead, in terms of the long-term.

To be honest, though, the idea of someone 'doing right' from compassion/feeling always touched me more than the principled action. But maybe I need to re-think this.

May 11, 2012 at 11:08 AM delete

Jon - I'd have agreed with you...before I married a thinker :-)

My compassion/feeling always helps, but is often more of a band-aid approach. I don't always consider long-term consequences (like with money). My husband is actually a very emotional person, but his decisions are driven by principled action and are usually better overall at solving problems for our family. We've learned to compromise. For example, he lets me get away with 'mood spending' on small things, but I defer to his wisdom on the larger financial issues.