Hey! This is Justin! Since I’m gonna be doing a lot of Phase 2, it’s probably good for me to say hi. It’s been awesome getting to talk to you guys over chats and emails, and I’m excited to finally get to do some character spotlights!
For this first one, we’re going to be focusing especially on how to type people. A lot of you have asked for help with typing people yourselves, so let’s walk through the process!
We’ve also convinced a couple of stick people, Gwen and Phil, to sacrifice their dignity and show us how *not* to type. They’re going to do their best to type correctly, using oversimplified, stereotypical methods and definitions, and we’ll see how they do.
For this tutorial, we wanted to type a cool, engaging character who’s also kinda obscure. That way, we shouldn’t have to worry much about preconceptions of the character’s type. We wouldn’t want to start out with Darth Vader, say. (We’ve seen Lord Vader typed as pretty much every single type :P)
That’s exactly the sort of subjectivity that we’re excited to get past here! Regardless of whether we’re typing someone’s behavior or their cognition, if it all ends up coming down to subjective arguments over what type they are, then there’s something wrong with our methodology. A reliable, repeatable, useful science needs to be objective, no matter who’s looking at it.
This kind of independent objectivity isn’t something a lot of people would associate with personality typing. All too often, personality typing gets misused as a vague, horoscope-ish way of boiling people down to a simplistic little list of traits that could really be true of almost anyone. Gwen and Phil are gonna demonstrate how this vagueness doesn’t work. Aren’t you, guys?
We, on the other hand, are all going to show these two the consistent roots of cognitive typing. We’re going to walk through how the cognitive definitions of the letters leave no wiggle room for subjective fudging; once we know how the letters work at their root, then every typing becomes clear.
So who’s our lucky, obscure victim for this demonstration? Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I give you…
But not just any peacock. This is the nefarious Lord Shen, the brilliant and, in my estimation, very charming villain of Kung Fu Panda 2. Yes, there really is a movie called Kung Fu Panda, if you didn’t know. Two of them, actually, with a third on the way. And they’re really fantastic, with excellent themes told in a skillful way, and very good plot structure, and also very pretty.
So we’re gonna type our peacock, step by step. What’s he gonna be?
Gwen and Phil: INTJ!!
Gwen: Villain, therefore INTJ.
Phil: Done. Next?
Okay… Well, he might be, we’ll have to go through it and see. Trying to type someone based on broad generalizations about what any type is like is dangerous, and probably kinda hurtful to people of that type. I’m sure real INTJs never get tired of being called villains and soulless monsters, after all.
Any type can be villainous, heartless, devious, selfish, etc. So if we start saying that anyone who’s villainous must be INTJ, when in reality any of the 16 types can be villains, then we’re only going to be right about one-sixteenth of the time, through sheer luck.
Likewise, if we start saying that anyone who’s thoughtful, private, creative, or heroic must be INFJ, then we’re going to be wrong fifteen-sixteenths of the time. If we say that anyone who’s fun, bouncy, and lives in the moment must be ESFP, then we’re going to get it wrong fifteen times out of sixteen. These sorts of generalizations are too vague, because in reality, anyone of any type can sometimes fit them.
Can INTJs be bouncy and live in the moment? Absolutely; they’ll just do it in an INTJ way, which is usually distinctly adorable.
Okay Gwen and Phil, so we can’t just shout out four-letter combos based on generalized caricatures. Sound good? When we do, we often neglect any coherent definition of the letters themselves.
So first, let’s start with E and I. Which is Lord Shen?
Ooh, a disagreement! This is why we picked these two. Alright, let’s start with Phil. Why do you say Shen’s an Extravert?
Phil: Did you even *see* how many henchmen he has? The guy’s always surrounded by followers. He loves the attention. Can you imagine him sitting alone with a book? Totally not his style. He’s a diva, an attention hog, he even wants his enemies to be there to see him win. Absolutely an Extravert.
Okay Gwen, why do you say he’s an Introvert?
Gwen: None of those henchmen are his friends. He wants to be alone. He hates his family, he doesn’t respect anyone, and he wants all the glory for himself. He’s obviously well-studied, which says Introvert to me. Who invented firearms? He did, alone. When everyone else was watching fireworks, he was in his room, figuring things out. Lord Shen is an Introvert.
Phil: Oh come on, what about—
Alright, let’s stop right here. This is the problem, guys. See the subjectivity happening here?
Gwen: No. I’m just saying it how it is.
Phil: Yeah, right! You’re totally ignoring, like, everything!
This is what we mean, both of you. Picking and choosing scenes, situations, lines of dialogue, whatever you can find to support your view. That’s subjective, because each viewer may focus on different things. You both make interesting arguments that bring out important parts of Shen’s character. If we invited a few more stick people to join you, I bet they’d each have even more different reasons for saying E or I. At this rate, sixteen different stick people might type Shen as sixteen different types!
This is often how it goes all over the internet, where there are a lot more than sixteen people. And this is a large part of the reason why some people consider personality typing to be unscientific, because guys, subjective picking-and-choosing isn’t science. You can’t test it, you can’t verify it, and really of what use is it? What predictions does it make about Shen, or about anyone? What does it do besides divide people into little boxes?
Gwen, you mentioned that Shen must be an Introvert because he alone invented firearms. Do you realize that you just accused half of humanity of being unable to invent new things on their own?
Gwen: Well, I…
You are an Introvert, or at least you identify as one, so you are used to inventing things in an Introverted way. You’re used to doing so many things that way. This does not mean that Extraverts cannot invent things just as well, it means only that they’ll do it a bit differently from the way you’re used to. This is another problem with subjective personality typing: it can give us an attitude that anyone who doesn’t think the way we do, doesn’t think. Or at least doesn’t think very well.
This sort of subjectivity usually means that there’s a problem with the definitions we’re using. Poor definitions leave room for subjectivity, for bias and fudging. In any discipline, useful definitions give us a clear idea of what we’re working with, so we can build upon them to reach reliable conclusions that will apply accurately in all the complexity of life. Unreliable definitions become less helpful, because we can’t really depend on them to guide us when we need definite, clear answers. These kinds of fuzzy definitions can be great as a stepping stone to more coherent ones, but they’re not good for depending on in practice.
So Gwen and Phil, what definitions were you using to determine whether Shen is an E or an I?
Gwen: May I remind you, you told us to use stereotypes and oversimplified definitions?
Phil: Ya bro, what gives?
Oh right, sorry guys. Okay, what definitions did I talk you into using, while you did your best to type Shen correctly?
Gwen: Not the easiest task.
Phil: You know the drill, who doesn’t? Extravert means fun, social, likes to be the center of attention at parties.
Gwen: And draws energy from interacting with others.
Phil: Yeah, that too. And Introvert means drawing energy from being alone. Likes books, sitting alone thinking, writing, dreaming…antisocial stuff.
Once again, you guys see how fast it becomes a little insulting? Antisocial isn’t necessarily a good thing, even if someone does prefer to be alone with their own thoughts. In the same way, even if someone likes being around others more, they may not appreciate being portrayed as a vapid party animal.
And this brings out one of the immediate flaws in these definitions: they’re a little too limiting. What if I like being social sometimes, but not always? What if I’m feeling really social at the moment, but a few hours ago I really wanted to have time to myself? Perhaps we can fudge with the definitions to make room for this sort of nuance, but already that’s a bad sign. When we have to fudge with definitions, that probably means we need to reevaluate how reliable and comprehensive our definitions are in the first place.
Strong definitions leave no room for exceptions, which usually means they end up being binary, covering opposite sides of a clear dichotomy. For example, if I say that E means red and I means blue, then that does not cover all possibilities. Where would a green person fit in? Or a yellow one, or a gray one? We could fudge and say, “Well, if you’ve done your reading, you’ll know that gray people are grouped more on the blue side, and yellow are grouped closer to red…” Alright, but what does “closer to red” mean? How much of the definition of red do they get? If we’re saying that E means red, then exactly how E are yellow people?
This is an example of a shaky, clumsy definition, because it isn’t binary. And that’s why it needs all the extra justifications and special cases about people who aren’t quite red or blue. Red and blue are not opposites, even if they’re very different from each other. And because they’re not opposites, they let a flood of exceptions through. And where there are exceptions, it gets harder to make predictions, which means everything becomes less scientific and more subjective.
Alright, then suppose we define E as red, while I means not-red. Okay, now everyone of every color will fit squarely within either E or I, with no subjective doctoring needed. Either you’re red, or not. Very simple. Binary.
Yet this brings up another problem! Are these definitions of E and I consistent with reality? Well, that depends what we’re trying to show with our definition, but I expect that if we actually tried to define E as red and I as not-red, then most people would find that very useless in terms of psychology. And we’d probably end up with a whole lot more Is than Es, because there are a lot more not-red things in the world than red ones.
So yes, we need to make the definitions of E and I binary, so they don’t invite subjective fiddling by letting exceptions through. But we also need to make the definitions of E and I true to reality, so they don’t leave anyone feeling limited or oversimplified. And that takes a whole lot of patient observation and experimentation, and means we have to allow our budding definitions to evolve to become better verbal reflections of what nature’s already been doing all along.
So after some care, we ended up with the definitions of E and I that we’ve been using here on aLBoP: That E means cognitive Extraversion, which entails looking out at the world in order to gather information and ideas, while I means cognitive Introversion, which entails looking inward to consider information and ideas. That’s fairly binary as it is, outward vs. inward, but an important part of the equation is that everyone does both, yet each person prioritizes one before another. If Es do outward-then-inward, while Is do inward-then-outward, then that seems very neatly binary.
But what if someone does outward-then-outward? Where would that fit? Or what if someone looks outward first sometimes, but inward first at others? This is where we have to see if our definitions pair up with reality. In practice, it seems that not only does everyone do both, never just doing the same one twice, but also that a person’s cognitive preference never deviates! It’s pretty amazing, but apparently it’s the way cognition works. Everyone wants to look outward, and everyone wants to look inward, but each individual wants to do one a little more than the other, deep down. Due to what each of us secretly desires most, our psyches will consistently prioritize Introverted pondering or Extraverted observation, one or the other, in the same way in every situation.
These definitions were not arrived at out of thin air; we simply dug down to find what was really going on behind Extraversion and Introversion. What was the root cause that resulted in all the behavioral symptoms? A cold may give you a cough, but the cough is just a symptom, and many things besides a cold may give you the same symptom. Digging down to the root cause, we can find out what a cold actually is, and what cognitive Extraversion and Introversion actually are, demonstrating what causes the symptoms without being confused by them.
And because we’re defining root causes rather than symptoms, we don’t end up limiting anyone. No one should be made to feel limited in their behaviors, choices, aptitudes, or anything about the person they want to be. Since these definitions get down to the cognitive root, we avoid exceptions and subjectivity, we keep close to reality in actual practice, and we reflect the way people already approach the world without limiting anything that they want to do or be.
Phew! So…yeah. Definitions are one of the absolute most important, and most neglected, aspects of any discipline. Shaky definitions lead to shaky science and hurtful oversimplifications, while strong definitions lead to clear understanding, accurate predictions, and no insulting stereotypes!
So guys, let’s see how our clarified definitions of E and I fare. Does Lord Shen look outward at the world first, then consider things in his mind? Or does he consider things in his mind first, then look outward?
Gwen: Uh…can we watch the movie again?
Yeah! Okay, so the first time we see him is in the intro montage. He’s a happy young peacock living with his parents, who rule the city. They’ve invented fireworks, which makes everyone happy. But Shen sees destructive potential in the black powder. We don’t get to see how this realization occurs, so here we have to admit that we lack sufficient information. That’s very important to do, when necessary. Maybe Shen figured this out by pondering in his own mind, Introverted, or maybe he figured it out by watching how things work, Extraverted. We just don’t get shown, so we have to say we don’t know.
Score: I – 0, E – 0
Then, worried about his budding nutball-ness, Shen’s parents consult a soothsayer to find out what to do. The soothsayer warns that unless Shen changes, he’ll one day be defeated by a warrior of black and white. And there’s a cool yin/yang symbolism evoked. But Shen can read foreshadowing as well as we can, and he thinks, “Pandas!” And he reacts. Violently.
This says Extravert, at this point. Why? Because Shen is choosing his action based on what he’s observed outside.
Gwen: But couldn’t an Introvert do that too?
Sure, everyone of any type can do anything! Yet they’ll each do it in different ways. An Introverted Shen, upon overhearing the soothsayer, would consider how her words matched up with what Shen had already considered in his own mind. Observation of the soothsayer’s words would be secondary to his own previous thoughts. He might arrive at the same course of action, but it would be motivated by his own thoughts, not immediately by the soothsayer’s words. An Introverted Shen would have gone away, thinking, then hatched a violent plan and gone forward. This Shen, on the other hand, hears the words and reacts! It’s the words of the soothsayer, an external source of information, which impel his action, not his own internal pondering. Make sense?
Gwen: I suppose, so far at least…
Phil: This is just a montage, though. Maybe he went and thought and we never saw it?
Yes, this is a quick montage, so that is still possible, Phil. But be careful of adding scenes that aren’t there. In good storytelling, we get a well-rounded view of a character by seeing the choices they make, and how they make them. That’s what makes well-crafted fictional characters a great place to start typing! So far, it seems the story is showing us that Shen reacts to external information, rather than internal.
Score: I – 0, E – 1
So Shen gathers his wolf cronies, and commits genocide against all the pandas. And then here’s what’s really interesting: he comes home, expecting his parents to be proud! This shows how messed up he is, yes, and anyone of any type can be. Yet this also shows a distinct focus on others’ opinions. This again suggests Extravert, seeking information from outside, in this case from other people.
An Introverted Shen, by contrast, might still intensely crave his parents’ approval, but he would not seek it as a way to validate or justify his actions. He would not seek outside opinions or approval to show him that what he’d done was good. Rather, when he came to his parents in triumph, he would have already determined that what he’d done was good or necessary. Their love would be what he’d want, and if he believed that their love depended on their approval, then he might seek their approval for its own sake. But he would not expect their approval to validate his choice of action.
The movie’s Extraverted Shen, on the other hand, bursts in triumphantly, clearly expecting his parents’ pride to endorse his decisive, fate-defying action. And so when he sees their horror, it crushes him. When they banish him and all his wolf henchmen, he is being cut off from the most precious source of external information he has: his parents, and his home. All his reactions to this show a cognitive Extraversion, looking outward to understand life.
Score: I – 0, E – 2
One last bit from the montage: When Shen is banished, he vows revenge. Okay, what kind of revenge? Does he swear to return and destroy them all? Or maybe take over the city? Well he sure seems to intend that, but what he says is interesting. That someday he’ll return, and everyone will bow at his feet. Again, this is Extraverted. His version of revenge is entirely external, centered around what others do and how they view him. It isn’t motivated primarily by what he can get for himself; it’s all centered around what he can do to others, and how he can force them to view him.
Score: I – 0, E – 3
Wow, this is being pretty consistent so far! And notice that none of it is determined by *what* Shen does, but by *how* he does it. In every instance, an Introvert could do the same actions, but they’d do it with entirely different motives and goals.
This method of considering both options, Introvert and Extravert, and then seeing which matches with the actual character, keeps us safe from subjective cherry-picking. All too often, people watch movies, read books, or look at real people and cherry-pick only the actions or words they want in order to suggest the type they want. But once we recognize that anyone can do or say anything, regardless of their type, that kind of subjectivity falls apart. Then we have to look at how and why the person does or says what they do, and consider how they might do the same action differently if they cognated differently. If you think a character or person is a certain letter, then ask, “What would they be like if they were the other letter?” Explore both, and see what happens!
And so the movie goes on. And over and over, Shen displays an entirely consistent focus outward, at others’ opinions, their actions, and their estimation of him. This is not to say that Extraverts are insecure; Introverts can be just as cripplingly insecure, and either can be healthy and chill, yet as always, they’ll do it in different ways.
When Shen finally does return, you can tell he’s rehearsed the whole grand entrance. He wants to make his enemies pay. Then when he gives his private victory speech, with only the soothsayer as audience, he points out how much he’s rehearsed this moment. Soon after, when he learns of the existence of one last panda, we see him nervously rehearsing a scripted “At last we meet!” speech. This kind of rehearsal shows how much Shen cares about the way everyone sees him in an Extraverted way, focusing outward on their opinions even more than on his own victories.
This awareness of others’ opinions doesn’t make Extraverts weak or shallow; on the contrary, their focus on others can give them perspective that Introverts might overlook. Their outward awareness can make it easier to know others’ needs, and easier to have a thick skin against others’ opinions, having a clearer awareness of the motives behind those opinions. While unhealthy Extraverts like Shen may be quite insecure in their awareness of how others see them, healthy Extraverts can be all the more calm and confident for it.
Interestingly, rehearsing also lets Shen feel almost Introverted, motivated by his own predetermined script rather than feeling vulnerable to others’ words or opinions. Yet the sheer fact that Shen has to keep rehearsing shows how much that kind of Introverted action does not come naturally to him. He can learn to do it, just as anyone can learn to do anything, but it is harder for him. Just like observing others and reacting accordingly is a bit harder for Introverts.
This also brings up an unfortunate tendency of less healthy Es. Shen rehearses and rehearses, but when he finally meets Po the Panda, the meeting doesn’t go at all as he’d expected.
When Extraverts rehearse without having a correct image of their audience in mind, it’s a sign of unhealthiness, of being stuck in their own heads while flailing at the outside world. Even healthy Es can do this, but when they do, it’s a sign that they’re slipping into quite unhealthy attitudes. When Extraverts go off on a subject without considering their audience, when they rant on social media making others wonder who they’re trying to talk to, when it seems as if they’re shouting at a wall in long, pre-scripted tirades, then that shows they’re being closed-off, and in fact clinging to insecurities about their last cognitive step. This inevitably leads to erroneous attitudes, ideas, and harmful decisions. Introverts can do all this too, of course, but they’ll do it in a different way, becoming obsessed with how others see them, in fact paying too much attention to their audience! Yet as always, the more both Es and Is learn to focus on their first step instead of their last, the more they’ll snap out of it and actually talk *to* people, instead of talking *at* them.
Back to our buddy Shen, he keeps the old soothsayer around, obsessed with what she has to say about his future, even when it remains unchanged after all his years of planning. He needs to see her proven wrong. He needs her to admit it. And so she trolls him, knowing he’ll be hanging on her every word. Shen views the soothsayer as a vital source of external information, a window into the future which Shen feels so desperately powerless to affect. In a way, the future and its immutable consequences are the ultimate external information. So everything Shen does is meant to beat the future, to change it, to force it to conform to his actions as a final way of validating them. All entirely Extraverted.
I’m not sure what the score would be by this point in the film, but it’s looking like a shutout with E trouncing I. In every interaction, every choice, Shen shows a persistent focus on external information. He acts as if his entire success or failure depends on external opinions. He’s not only more Extraverted than Introverted; he seems purely, entirely Extraverted!
This is actually how it’s supposed to work, in real life as well as in fiction. The writers of this movie didn’t know to make their villain a pure Extravert; they just wanted an interesting villain with realistic, identifiable motivations. In the same way, the clearer definitions of E and I show that everyone is always all one, or all the other. In every situation, decision, thought, or action, Extraverts will look outside themselves for information first. Every time. And Introverts will start by looking inside their minds first, every single time. Again, this isn’t a limit on what we can do; everyone can get good at everything, yet Extraverts naturally think in an Extraverted way, and Introverts think in an Introverted way.
If, instead, we found that people tended to come off as more of a mix, then that might suggest that our definitions needed some work. The fact that it’s always consistent shows that we’ve gotten down to the roots of how we think, beneath all our changing behaviors and attitudes. Inconsistency would suggest inaccurate definitions.
What this means, though, is that a real test of cognition should never say, “Well, you got 6 points of E and only 4 points of I, so overall you’re an E.” That kind of mixed result shows a problem in the definitions that the test is using for its letters. So when you run into tests that give mixed results like that—and I don’t really know of any other kind of test for these letters—then you can be pretty sure that the test is at least a little inaccurate. Faulty definitions lead to faulty conclusions. A thorough, cohesive definition of the letters will yield thoroughly consistent answers. Even behavioralism can be made to meet this standard, once it derives robust, dependable definitions of behaviors.
Anyway, Shen here certainly seems to be coming out as a pure cognitive Extravert, which helps us better understand all his behaviors and attitudes.
Phil: Okay, that’s all actually really cool, but…he’s a bad guy!
Gwen: He’s right. Aren’t bad guys usually Introverted masterminds?
Shen certainly seems to qualify as a mastermind. Plotting, controlling, moving each chess piece for years. But why does mastermind have to mean Introvert? Why does someone have to look inside their own mind for information, in order to cunningly craft a devious strategy? Here we come to limitations again. Stereotype might tell us that villains must be Introverts because only Introverts can create a competent villainous scheme, but that’s just insulting to Extraverts.
One of the reasons we chose Shen for this first spotlight was because his four-letter type goes against all kinds of stereotypes! And here’s one stereotype we can defy right away: he’s an Extraverted mastermind, constantly looking outside himself as he proceeds with his master plan. This makes Shen “POP” as a villain, breaking away from the clichés we’ve grown used to. Not that Introverted villains can’t be made to POP in their own ways, but Shen’s Extraversion is quite engaging.
Okay, so we’re good? Lord Shen is an Extravert?
Gwen: It appears so.
Phil: Booyah! Rack up one point for Phil, I was right!
Well your answer was right, but that doesn’t mean you understood why, Phil. Since each of you chose one of the two letters, one of you was gonna get it right!
Phil: Yeah, but it was me!
Gwen: Sheer luck.
And lucky guesses aren’t science, since they don’t help us make predictions. They don’t really help us understand anything. But now that we’ve gotten down to the comprehensive definition at the core of Extraversion, you can understand the reasons behind it without having to rely on guesswork. And that’s much nicer, yeah?
Phil: Yeah, it makes a ton more sense, actually. It’s not what I’m used to, like, at all. But you’re right, it makes it so I don’t have to just kinda guess and hope for the best.
Gwen: Much more concrete. Even if you made us start out with unreliable definitions.
Yeah… You’ve both been great sports. And as for what you’re used to, remember that this definition is the root of all the actual symptoms of Extraversion, while losing the stereotypes that were never really symptoms of anything. By these definitions both E and I are fundamentally equal, because everyone does both, just in opposite order. No more can we say that one is less healthy, less thoughtful, less friendly, or less intelligent than the other. Anyone of any type can and should be free to be whatever they choose. Each different way of approaching life is equally valid and effective.
Phil: Phil 1, Gwen 0.
Alright, we gotta move on! Next we’ll see whether Shen is a P or a J.
Gwen: Aren’t S and N next?
Yeah? Why’s that?
Phil: Because…they’re next.
Gwen: After I and E, comes S and N.
Ohhh, right. See, here’s the thing. That letter order is kinda arbitrary, but we’ve gotten used to it, so, yeah. Calise and I often find it more useful to focus on first and last letters together, since they represent a type’s Scope. If we could start over fresh (tempting, but far too confusing), we might write it as IJ-NT, instead of INTJ. That’s actually how we sometimes say it in private, in fact. IJ-NT gets across that the first pair is the Scope, the primary focus of the type which determines its first cognition step, while the second pair is the Objective, the secondary focus that gets applied to the Scope.
We still say INTJ because, hey, we don’t want to be confusing. And Calise kinda likes the sense of “balance” that comes from having the Scope letters on the outside, like bookends. She says it feels like a castle, with little towers on the outside. But either way, when we’re walking through how cognition works we can go in any order we like, and focusing on Scope (first and last letters) followed by Objective (middle letters) tends to be far more informative.
We did have one reader once who seemed to think Calise was saying that the cognition steps go I-N-T-J, in that order. And there’s nothing wrong with being a little confused, but when someone comes on a website to declare that it’s wrong, they’d probably be well advised to actually consider the content. Even a brief glance at the pictures, without even bothering to read, should have shown that the order of cognition steps has nothing at all to do with the arbitrary order of the letters; that’s not even how cognition steps work. But when people seem uncomfortable about any topic, it can be amazing how much reading comprehension turns off.
Right! So, we’re okay hitting J and P next? See what our boy Shen’s Scope turns out to be?
Gwen: Sounds good.
Phil: Yeah, because he’s gonna be a P. I am on fire!
Don’t burn yourself just yet. Let’s let Gwen go first this time. Gwen?
Gwen: Lord Shen is a J, because…you really want me to do this?
I promised you candy! All you have to do is use the usual, simplified definitions, and see how well you can manage to type.
Gwen: Candy, right. In that case, Lord Shen is a J, because he gets things done. He makes plans and he sees them through. His whole life is about plans. He knows what he wants, and he does whatever it takes to get it. Everything has to be perfect, everything has to be just the way he pictured it. And he’s very judgmental about everyone around him. Therefore, he must be a Judger.
Phil: Pfft, yeah right.
Your turn, Phil.
Phil: Shen is totally a P, because he’s funny! He seems like he’d be a lot of fun to be around, if only he wasn’t evil. And he’s a P because all his plans keep going wrong! They keep blowing up in his face, and every time he tries to change fate he just blunders into it over and over. Sure he’s got style, but he clearly has no idea what he’s doing. Totally a Perceiver.
Ouch. Good job you two, but gosh, where do we even start? Gwen, you implied that—
Gwen: That only Judgers can get things done, only Judgers plan and see it through and get what they want.
Yes. And also that “Judger” means judgmental of others. I know, you’d think that the word Judger would mean judgmental, but that’s the difficulty with choosing words to adequately represent what’s already going on in the human mind; almost any word might have inaccurate implications.
And Phil? What did you imply?
Phil: I’m on it. My definition made it sound like only Ps are fun, and that our plans always have to go wrong. That we’re pretty incompetent at planning, really, and just wander around clueless.
Gwen: Well, don’t you?
Phil: Now listen, you! We…yeah, we do, sometimes.
Yes, you do. Sometimes. But then so do Js, sometimes. Believe me, I’m a J. As always, any healthy person of any type can have every healthy habit and attitude, and anyone of any type can have any weakness. Perceivers can plan effectively, and Judgers can be fun and spontaneous. And both can blunder around ruining their own plans, and both can be overly judgmental.
As with Extravert and Introvert, this suggests a problem with our definitions. If anyone can be either, then there’s room for subjective fudging, which means our definitions don’t adequately reflect reality.
Deciphering the root definition of J and P is actually not too hard; we mainly just have to cut past all the belittling stereotypes. Once we do, we end up with this clear, binary definition: that Js prefer to take action first and consider options second, while Ps prefer to consider options first and take action second. There are times for both, and either can result in every ability and aptitude; they’ll just do it in different ways.
Now, like with E and I, we consider how Shen would be if he were a J, and then we consider how he would be if he were a P. And then we see which matches up! So you two, what would Shen be like if he were a Perceiver? If he naturally preferred to consider options first, then take action after.
Gwen: You take this one.
Phil: Alright, starting where Shen meets Po… Hm, I think I see where this is going, because if Shen were a P, he’d probably act differently from how he does in the movie.
Phil: If he were a P, he wouldn’t be so stilted and pre-scripted. He’d roll with things better, and wouldn’t be so surprised when Po throws him curveballs.
Of course a healthy J can learn to adapt and roll with things.
Phil: Yeah, but I think if Shen were a P, he’d probably bounce off of Po’s surprises pretty naturally. And if he was clinging to a script—because hey, sometimes even I like having a plan—I think a P Shen would be so focused on following his script that he wouldn’t even notice Po messing it up. I mean, that’s how I get when I’m trying to follow a plan to the letter, I kinda get oblivious, because scripted isn’t normally how I roll, so I have to cling hard to the plan or just let it go.
Very observant! Of course, a healthy P could learn to be less clingy to their plans, but you’re right, it would be harder. Now Gwen, same situation, where Shen first meets Po. What would a J Shen be like?
Gwen: As a J, Shen would always have *some* kind of plan, even if it’s a really adaptive one. And when Po messed up the plan, Shen would be surprised and maybe a little hesitant, trying to figure out what to do. But he wouldn’t be oblivious to Po messing up his perfect script, because he’s used to having plans, so he wouldn’t be clinging as hard to it as, well, Phil would.
Phil: Yeah, we know it’s true.
Alright, so how does Shen in the movie compare? Is he all P, all J, or a mix?
Gwen: He appears to be entirely J. At no point does he even come close to observing first; he’s always acting first and then observing after.
Phil: Yeah, she’s right.
Sounds good! Now, if our definitions are consistent, then this evaluation should remain true for everything Shen does and says throughout the whole movie. This is because well-written characters are consistent yet complex, the way real people are. If we just look at one scene in isolation, we might get in danger of cherry-picking scenes that seem to support the answer we want.
But instead of walking through every single scene in the movie, I’m going to click on a random place in the movie and see what comes up…
Here we go! Po confronting Shen inside Shen’s factory, after Po has found out that Shen killed Po’s parents. Shen has no script this time; he hasn’t been able to rehearse this encounter. And yet every time he taunts Po, it’s all very deliberate, first speaking and then seeing how Po handles it. A Perceiver Shen, by contrast, would be distinctly more fluid in his taunts, constantly observing Po and poking him in just the right places, rather than firing off a carefully calculated jibe and then waiting to see how Po responds. A Perceiver Shen would be constantly reacting to Po, just as Po is always reacting to everything. Observing first, then acting.
Certainly, a Judger could learn to be fluid in the moment, and a Perceiver could learn to be deliberate and proactive, yet they’ll still naturally prioritize the one their mind cares about most: action or observation. Here Shen consistently prioritizes action first, both in taunting Po and in fighting him. He acts first, and only afterward observes the results.
The same ends up holding true throughout the whole movie. In every scene, Shen consistently acts first before observing and considering results or alternative actions. Every single time. Just as he’s purely Extraverted, he’s also purely a Judger. That’s the way solid definitions are supposed to work.
So now we have two of the four letters! And these are perhaps the two most important letters, displaying a person’s Scope, the primary form of information they focus on most. Shen is an Extraverted Judger, an EJ.
And now that we have two letters, we can see what their combined effect is. By exploring the way letter combinations work, we can verify whether the individual letters we’ve arrived at are correct. If our definitions are accurate and consistent, then Shen, as an EJ, should display all the characteristics we expect from EJs in general.
There are four EJ types: ENFJ, ENTJ, ESFJ, and ESTJ. What do these four types have in common, unique among all the other types? Of the four types of information—Principles, Motives, Action, and Data—EJs focus first and foremost on Action. For all four EJs, Action is their first cognitive step. And no other type besides the EJs starts with Action. This is because Action is what matters most to EJs, deep down. Going forward and just doing what needs to be done. As Judgers who look outward at the world for information, EJs are constantly concerned with how their own actions can affect the lives of themselves and others.
Also, all the EJs have the same weakest area, the same last cognitive step, which their mind naturally cares about least, and so focuses on the least. This is Data, the ability to notice details in situations, and draw correct conclusions from those details. Of all the types, EJs are naturally weakest in noticing details and drawing correct conclusions. They may simply fail to pick up on details, or they may make dangerously oversimplified and inaccurate conclusions from the details they see.
So, if we’re right that Shen is an E and a J, then he should also be an EJ, focusing first on Action and last on Data. Is this what Shen does?
Gwen: Well the guy is all about Action, isn’t he? To a fault. He’s a Judger, sure, but more than that, he’s always about going forward and doing things right away. I’m a Judger too, but as an IJ I’m more about making things work in general, while Shen is all about charging forward and doing things immediately.
Phil: Two words: “Keep firing!!” I mean, come on, the panda is hurling your shots back into your fleet, destroying all your ships! If you stop firing, the panda’s got nothing. Just stop firing, you dolt! But no, Shen has to keep *acting,* he can’t just stop and evaluate. If you’re doing something that’s literally blowing up in your face, then by all means, keep doing it harder, right Shen? /facepalm
Gwen: Also, his whole motivation seems to be based on faulty conclusions. He’s convinced his parents hated him, because they banished him. He missed all the details that would be obvious to most people, like the reasons why his parents banished him…like genocide, for instance. His parents wanted to prevent him from destroying his life. They failed, but they still loved him.
Phil: And all the time, Shen keeps jumping to conclusions overeagerly. First he’s sure he killed all the pandas. Apparently a whole ton of them got away; talk about missing out on your details, Shen! Then he draws the rash conclusion that no one can stop him, because he missed the little detail that there are still pandas. Then when he finds out about Po, he jumps to the conclusion that the panda must be some fearsome nemesis. And then he keeps thinking Po is dead, over and over. And so on. He keeps jumping to conclusions with the soothsayer, and he actually thinks that if he takes enough decisive Action then he can cancel out her unpleasant Data. He tells her, “Then I will kill him, and make you wrong.” Okay, the future-seer has said your only way out is to stop being evil. So you think being more evil is gonna change that Data? Wow, bro. He’s so busy doing Action that he can’t slow down and learn anything whatsoever.
Wow, nice guys. Remember, though, that Shen is an unhealthy EJ. Any healthy EJ can get good at understanding Data and conclusions; it’ll still be hard for them because it’s what their mind focuses on least, but they can learn to get good at it. And while unhealthy EJs like Shen may blow up their own lives due to their rash Action, healthier EJs learn to be decisive and powerful without hurting themselves or others.
So then, Shen does seem to be an Extravert, a Judger, and also an Extraverted Judger, showing the typical qualities of EJs. We won’t take time to walk through how different Shen would be if he were an EP, an IP, or an IJ! But it’s still a cool mental exercise.
Now, for the middle letters! We’re getting close, we know Shen is one of four types: ENFJ, ENTJ, ESFJ, or ESTJ. Now, guys, let’s go back to S and N. You ready?
Phil: I was born ready.
Gwen: Shen’s an S.
Phil: Hey no fair, I wasn’t ready! Okay, Shen is totally an N. How could you possibly think he’s an S?
Gwen: Are you kidding? When he first comes back, did you see the way he took out all the city guards in one swipe? And then he takes on three kung fu masters, by himself!
Phil: Ah, you’re using the “Sensors are more athletic” definition, huh?
Gwen: Justin’s giving me candy. So yes. Also, I’m using the “Sensors are more practical” stereotype, and Shen is clearly practical! He has no time for anyone’s ideals. His whole premise is the practicality of guns over the age-old ideals of martial arts. He may be a little too practical and concrete, even. So yes, Sensor.
Phil: Alright, I’ll see your stereotype, and raise you an “iNtuitives are smart” stereotype of my own.
Gwen: Oh gosh, here we go.
Phil: You’re right, Shen is all about guns. Because he invented them! Sensors can’t invent things; they’re mostly assistants, grunts, and mechanics.
Gwen: Did you seriously just say—?
Phil: I get candy for being a jerk too, so bear with me here. Shen has to be an iNtuitive, because he’s always thinking in the abstract. That’s how he came up with guns when everyone else was looking at the fireworks right in front of them. That’s how he sees his plans through. Sensors don’t do that.
Gwen: I am going to throw my candy at your head.
Phil: I’m still right.
Alright! This is how it starts, all the anger and bitterness. This is how all the spite on the internet gets started, because simplistic definitions can quickly become insulting. Any healthy person can be both inventive and practical, both athletic and abstract. Therefore, if any healthy person can do both, then we don’t have solid, binary definitions here. We need to find out what’s really at the root of S and N. What causes all the real symptoms of S and N?
Cutting through the demeaning stereotypes, we eventually arrive at this fundamental definition of S and N: Sensors focus first on actual experience, and draw conceptual understanding from those experiences. iNtuitives do the reverse: they focus first on concepts, and then apply those concepts to help them understand their experiences. Everyone does both, everyone understands abstract concepts and concrete experiences, but Ss focus first on experiences, while Ns focus first on concepts. You can’t do both first; you have to choose one, and do the other second. This makes the definition clear, clean, and binary. There’s no wiggle room, no exceptions, and no overlap; either you’re an S or an N. And in practice, Ns will always, consistently focus on concepts first, while Ss will always focus first on actual experience, due to the innermost desires of each. Every time.
All the familiar symptoms and tendencies of S and N end up resulting from this core definition. Are Sensors more concrete? Often times, yes, because a focus on actual experience naturally results in a focus on concrete, literal things. iNtuitives can learn to be concrete-minded too, but it’s not where they naturally focus. Are iNtuitives more abstract? Often, sure, because a focus on concepts results in a more abstract mindset. But Sensors can learn to be abstract too; it’s just not where they naturally focus. Everyone can do both.
So the fact that Shen invented firearms tells us nothing at all, because both Ns and Ss could do that. We can find times when he thinks in the abstract, and other times when he thinks more concretely, because everyone does both; we just focus a little more on the one we’re most used to. His martial arts prowess does not make him an S; it’s not about what he can do, it’s about how he approaches doing it. Everyone can do everything, we just approach it in different ways.
Yet once we get down to the actual, clear definitions of S and N, what will Shen turn out to be? Remember, if our definitions are effective and accurate, then Shen should be purely S or purely N, with no overlap or exceptions. So, does he focus first on experiences, and derive concepts from them? Or does he focus first on concepts, and apply them to his experiences?
Gwen: Experiences, all the way.
Phil: Yeah…she’s right.
Gwen: Gwen 2, Phil 1.
Phil: I’m ignoring that. Because yeah, everything about Shen revolves around his experiences. He got burned in the past, so now he’s out to burn the world. He views all his conceptual beliefs through the lens of his experiences, not the other way around. Even when he wants to know the future, he wants to know what events and experiences are going to happen, instead of wanting to know what concepts are worth fighting for.
Speaking of the future, though, what about this? Shen comments, “The dead exist in the past, and I must turn to the future.” Isn’t that an N thing to say? Isn’t that a focus on the future, while Ss think more about the past and present?
Gwen: What, are you saying I’m incapable of thinking about the future?
Well, are you?
Gwen: No! Sure, I do think of the past and present more often. That just makes sense, because the past and present have really happened! But that doesn’t mean I can’t think of the future, it just means I think about it a little less often, that’s all.
Phil: Also, even though Shen says he’s looking to the future, it’s all an escape from the past. He’s motivated by the past. All his plans for a Shen-tastic future full of peacocky goodness are all motivated by the past. He lives in the past, no matter how much he tries to hide from it.
So you’re saying it’s not unhealthy to live in the past, it’s only unhealthy to hide from it?
Gwen: It’s unhealthy to hide from what your mind wants to focus on. When you try, you’re only fighting yourself. Shen’s deepest desires cause him to think as a Sensor, focusing first on experiences. If he tries to hide from that, then he’s fighting his deepest desires.
Phil: No wonder he’s cranky.
Gwen: Hiding from the past is no worse or better than hiding from the future, or the present. It’s the denial that’s the problem.
So, even though Shen insists he looks to the future, you’re saying he’s wrong? About his own self?
Gwen: Absolutely. Often we’re the worst judges of our own selves. We usually can’t see what everyone else can.
Phil: For bad or for good.
Gwen: Yeah. Shen would probably insist that he’s an N, because he’s desperate to escape the past. But that’s not how his mind works, because it’s not what he wants most in his hidden heart. The very essence of what it means to be Shen is manifested in his core desires, which result in him being a Sensor. The more he fights that, the more he’s fighting his own better self.
I’m glad I don’t have to send him a personalized typing. I would not want to hear his outrage.
Phil: No surprise here, that a guy who lives too much in the past, denies that he does. Never seen that in real life…
So that’s good for S and N, right? We could go on exploring the movie, but once again, in every situation, every choice, and every interaction, Shen draws conceptual understanding from his experiences. Experience comes first, and concepts come from them.
That’s three of his four letters! Lord Shen is a pure ESJ, with no deviation or exceptions. This places no limits on what he can do or choose; it only shows the way he does and chooses everything.
So what’s he going to be? The ESTJ Cannon, or the ESFJ Cavalry?
Phil: Okay, candy or not, why do I have to do F? Is there really any doubt at this point? The guy’s a monster! He’s totally a T!
Gwen: Excuse me?
Phil: And come on, ESTJ is the Cannon. The Cannon! Could anything be more appropriate for Lord Shen, the guy who uses cannons as his own personal Death Star? I mean, come on, it’s not like he’s going to be an ESFJ.
Yeah? Why’s that?
Phil: Well…no offense to ESFJs, but they’re really lame.
Oh, why would they be offended to hear that?
Phil: It’s true, though. They’re a bunch of nannies and superficial party girls.
Gwen: If you kill him, do I get his candy?
Maybe. But before we go and define F and T, let’s be careful about four-letter stereotypes again. Remember, don’t just shout out four-letter combos due to the oversimplified, inaccurate caricatures you may have heard about them. You might be surprised, Phil, at how many monolithic titans of history have been ESFJs.
But is Shen among them? Or is he an ESTJ?
Gwen: Phil’s reasoning may be weak, but his answer is still correct; Shen is a T.
Phil: And I guess I’m obligated to say he’s an F. Gwen 3, Phil 1. Poop.
Alright, Gwen, why is Shen a T?
Gwen: Well, going by stereotype, because he is a heartless, murderous monster. He hears that pandas will get in his way, so he goes out and slaughters them all. He doesn’t care about the pretty fireworks, he only sees the potential for a weapon. Any time anything gets in his way, he removes it. He doesn’t *care* about anything or anyone. He is hard, cold, and cruel. This makes him an unhealthy T, but a T all the same.
And Phil? Why do you say he’s an F?
Phil: Actually, now that I think about it, he really could be an F. Stereotypically speaking, I mean. He’s whiny, he can’t get over how his parents hurt him, and his whole life is pretty much one big tantrum. He’s a diva. He’s obsessed with how everyone sees him, always needing everything to be perfect. Personally I still know he’s going to be a T, but I can totally picture someone using simplified definitions and thinking he’s an F. Because yeah, he really is a diva.
Okay guys, now what did your stereotypes imply?
Phil: Me first, please? I gotta wash out my mouth.
Gwen: Be my guest.
Phil: I just said that Shen is an F because he’s whiny and petty. I mean, seriously? That’s how we’re defining half of all the types? I’ve seen so many characters typed as F simply because they’re emotional. That implies that Fs are overemotional idiots (thanks, by the way), while Ts are emotionless machines.
Gwen: And I implied pretty much the same. That all Ts are emotionless monsters. Yeah, that makes me feel really good. The stereotypes say that Ts don’t care about anyone or anything, that we’re cold and logical and somewhat inhuman. Personally, I do keep my emotions inside a bit more, but that’s not because I’m a T, is it?
There are lots of cognitive reasons behind every behavioral tendency, usually resulting from a combination of letters. Both ISJs and ITJs tend to guard their tender hearts a little more cautiously, so as an ISTJ you get the tendencies of both! But ISFJs are often just as guarded as INTJs, while some kinds of Ts are downright effusive with their emotions! The combinations of the letters result in such cool patterns, without falling victim to oversimplifications and limitations.
Now before we apply the root definitions of F and T, I just want to point out that you two just typed Lord Shen as being all sixteen of the types.
Phil: We did? Is that good?
Phil you said E, while Gwen said I. Phil said P, while Gwen said J. And you both gave very believable arguments for each, constrained by the stereotypical, simplified definitions of the letters that we see all over the place. Not good arguments, not scientific arguments; they were entirely subjective, yet entirely believable as the kind of reasoning we find in personality typing. Phil said N and F, while Gwen said S and T, and again, you gave reasoning that I could certainly imagine finding online. In fact, neither of you two ever said anything that I haven’t actually seen online! All your simplified arguments were actual reasons we’ve seen over and over.
So, according to you guys, and therefore according to popular, simplistic versions of personality typing, Shen could be any type. Any at all. This is the problem with subjectivity. Remember, I said that we’ve seen Darth Vader typed as pretty much every type? This is why. Subjective cherry-picking and caricatures eliminate all sense of consistency, repeatability, or predictive value. This is why some people call psychology a pseudoscience, because when people approach it with subjective, shaky definitions, it’s just not science. I’ve heard personality typing referred to as “horoscopes for people who think they’re too smart for horoscopes,” and I wish that were wrong.
But getting back to the root of things, working out what goes on underneath all the symptoms and simplifications, it’s amazing how quickly the subjectivity melts away, leaving us with a clean and consistently predictive science. We’ve already worked out, by the root definitions, that Lord Shen is simply not an Introvert, a Perceiver, or an iNtuitive. In contrast to the internet typing Vader as all the types, there’s no room for subjectivity once things are well defined; Shen is purely ESJ. So if we get to the root of F and T, then it should become absolutely clear which one Shen is.
And that root ends up being about use versus meaning. Every healthy person cares about both, but which does our mind naturally want to focus on first? Do we care first about the use of things, the benefits that come from them? Or do we care first about the intrinsic meaning and significance of things, apart from any immediate usefulness? Thinkers find meaning in usefulness, while Feelers find usefulness in meaning. Everyone does both, but we have to do one first.
So healthy Thinkers will care intensely for things, but always as a result of how beneficially useful things are. Likewise, healthy Feelers will be rational and composed, but always with an eye toward the intrinsic meaning of things. Unhealthy Thinkers and Feelers both have an *equal* tendency to be uncaring and cold, or overemotional and irrational, or sometimes both at the same time.
So what about Shen? Does he focus first on the use of things, and then on meaning? Or the other way around? Let’s check by considering what he’d be like as a T, and what he’d be like as an F.
Gwen: If Shen were a T, then he would view his banishment as ruining his life because of all the opportunities it took from him. When he says his parents “robbed me,” it would be in the sense of taking from him everything he could have accomplished if he had been allowed to stay as their heir. He would view Po as an obstacle that prevented him from attaining his useful, beneficial goals. Beneficial to Shen, I mean. Everything Shen did would be about clearing the way to accomplish useful goals, rather than trying to prove something about meaning. A Thinker Shen would care about meaning too, but only as a result of use.
Phil: Hm, not bad. If Shen were an F, he would still view his banishment as ruining his life, but for different reasons. It wouldn’t be because of lost opportunities, it would be because his own meaning was impugned. It would be more about the insult than the inconvenience. When he says his parents robbed him, it would be in the sense of taking from him his dignity, his rightful place in the world, and all the adulation he thinks he deserves. And as for Po, he’d view him as an obstacle that prevented him from reaching that rightful place of dignity and praise. Everything Shen did would be about proving his own meaning and significance, especially by fixing all the hurts he’d suffered. A Feeler Shen would of course care about the use of things, but only as a means toward reaching his meaningful ends.
Nice! So, which one matches the Lord Shen we see in the movie?
Gwen: Not T, actually. Congratulations Phil.
Phil: Wait, you’re serious?
Gwen: Look at how Shen does things! Everything is all about his own personal meaning. He wants to rule China so that everyone can see that he deserves it, so everyone can see how meaningful he is. He has no plan at all for what he wants to do *with* China once he rules it! He just wants everyone to see his preeminent significance. Every time he talks about how his parents banished him, it’s like he doesn’t even consider how much they took opportunities from him. It never even comes up. It’s always about how they supposedly hated him, and he projects that fear onto Po, telling Po that his parents didn’t love him either. He’s managed to build a cannon-powered army even while banished, but never seems to pause and say, “I could have done so much more had I not been banished.” Never even a hint of that.
Phil: Woah, yeah. He’s always about the meaning he’s lost. Like, every time.
Gwen: I still think a Thinker Shen could have been cool, but that’s not the Lord Shen we see in the movie.
Phil: Hey, the Feeler Shen is really smooth and stylish! All his focus on meaning makes him kinda compelling. All his goals, fears, and methods are all about the gain or loss of meaning, and that makes the idea of his triumph very…meaningful. In a scary way.
Woo! So now we’ve typed him! We typed a guy! Lord Shen is (drumroll please, guys)…
ESFJ! A very intriguing example of Dark Cavalry!
Phil: It’s still hard to believe. Shen is too cool to be ESFJ!
Gwen: I slap you.
Phil: Hey, we tied! Phil 2, Gwen 2!
Yeah, what are the odds? And Phil, that’s one of the reasons we chose Shen for this tutorial, because ESFJs get misrepresented and oversimplified all the time. Pretty much every type does, actually. But ESFJs are stereotyped as…how did you say it?
Gwen: Nannies and superficial party girls, wasn’t it, Phil?
Now I’m hesitant to mention real historical ESFJs here, because Calise and I have gotten tired of people strutting in and declaring, “Nope, that’s wrong,” without reading any of the content. We hoped the three dictionary posts would help, and they really have, but not everyone reads carefully before commenting on things. But now after this tutorial, I hope it’s safe to mention a few real-life Cavalries here! There are tons of powerful ESFJs in history, including several American Presidents: James Monroe, James Buchanan, George H.W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, all ESFJs, Phil.
Phil: That cannot be right.
Well according to stereotypes, it wouldn’t be! But using the actual root definitions that reflect how cognition naturally works, it ends up being a remarkable insight into how these people lived, thought, and came to decisions. It shows the complexity of people, rather than limiting them into superficial boxes.
Other prominent ESFJs include Catherine the Great of Russia, Simon Bolivar of Venezuela, Prince Charles of Wales and the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Also Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oprah Winfrey, and even the current Pope, Francis. And the list really goes on.
Phil: Wow, okay. So then, if all those people are seriously ESFJ, uh, what on earth does ESFJ really mean?
“ESFJs are often portrayed as superficially social, needy, bossy, rule-obsessed and self-absorbed, so you may have been tempted to think you couldn’t possibly be ESFJ. Well good, because those sorts of oversimplifications are simply untrue. They’re stereotypes that have nothing at all to do with cognition, coming from shaky definitions of the letters that end up contradicting themselves and falling apart under the rigors of experience. Human thought is far more complex than that!
“…What matters most to you [ESFJs], deep down, is taking action to create experiences that will bring true happiness, comfort, and peace to those you care about.”
Reading about the presidencies of Roosevelt and Kennedy, it’s neat to see how all their decisive actions were in pursuit of bringing joy (as they knew it) to themselves, their country, and especially to the people they were close to. I was recently reading a conversation between ESFJ Franklin Roosevelt and INFJ Adolf Hitler, and it was so fascinating seeing how each of them demonstrated their respective deepest desires, natural strengths, and hidden fears.
But how does this apply to Lord Shen?
Gwen: Well for starters, he seems like an interesting inversion of a healthy ESFJ. He’s willing to destroy the joy and peace of everyone in pursuit of his own.
This is very true, and it’s what unhealthy people of any type do: they seek the destruction of their own deepest desire in the lives of others, as if that will help them attain it in their own lives.
Phil: Yeah, Shen is all about happiness, which is surprising in a villain. I’m used to villains who roll their eyes at the idea of happiness at all, but Shen doesn’t. But he believes that to get his own joy, he has to stomp on everyone else’s. “Happiness must be taken,” he says, “and I will take mine.”
This also brings up an interesting side of Shen as an EFJ. All the EJs end up being very group-oriented, championing and defending the needs of those on their team. But for EFJs in particular, it’s all about the meaning of their group. And that is what Shen feels ultimately robbed of. His group. His family. His inheritance and home. “My parents hated me. Do you understand? They robbed me. And I will make it right.” He’s all about taking action (EJ) to fix past hurts of his own meaning (SF), in a ruthlessly destructive way.
Does he try to reconcile his memory of his parents? Does he seek healing, or try to learn from the experiences of others in order to understand his own? That’s what a healthy person of any type should do, but instead, Shen goes out of his way to destroy his own deepest desire in the lives of others. In Shen’s mind, nothing is of greater value than bringing joy and peace to your own group, so therefore, in his mind, nothing is of greater injury than destroying that joy in others’ groups.
He hurls his father’s throne out a window, then gleefully destroys his parents’ palace in an attempt to kill Po. “You just destroyed your ancestral home, Shen!” the soothsayer reminds him, and how does Shen reply? By burning a map of all China. This is Dark Cavalry.
Now in Phil’s defense, ESFJs are often portrayed rather poorly in our culture.
When Calise made the collage for the ESFJ Cavalry Type Hero, it was hard because so many of the fictional examples of ESFJs are actually quite lame. We’re proud of a lot of the ones we did find, and it’s unfortunate we didn’t know about Shen at the time, but still, it was hard finding compelling, heroic, mighty ESFJs in fiction. This is not at all a reflection of real ESFJs, it’s only a reflection of how our culture tends to view them. So don’t worry, ESFJs! As you learn more about how you already think, you can find the heroic, decisive, unstoppable force you already have inside you, and show the world how to be truly happy and successful.
This brings up ESFJ’s Type Angst: the Leslie Knope Marathon.
You can read more about that in the COG, but in short, it’s a tendency toward frantic action as a result of the fear that you’re not naturally gifted. Deep down, as a result of their deepest desire, ESFJs fear that they’re not naturally talented, and so have to work twice as hard as everyone else just to keep up.
Gwen: And so, he invents firearms.
Yes! And he always gloats about how superior they are to martial arts. Shen shows incredible kung fu mastery, and he’s almost always practicing, even while talking. But he still seems to feel inferior, and so this kung fu master wants to eliminate kung fu. Guns are his way to do that, and he will use them to show once and for all that he doesn’t need talent.
I expect that Shen would deny that this fear is even there, just as we all might do at times, because our Type Angst is often the part of ourselves that we least want to see. And yet, even while denying it, his every word and action would probably demonstrate his fear. He never moves a muscle that isn’t motivated by his Type Angst. Yet as we each come to understand our own deepest fears, then and only then can we grow entirely free of them. If only Shen had done that from the beginning, he might never have gone wrong in the first place.
Shen’s obsession with his own meaning is brought into sharp focus by contrasting it with his opposite letters, as demonstrated in The Incredibles’ INTP Syndrome.
Like Shen, Syndrome wants to be seen and praised, but for entirely opposite motives. Shen wants to be praised for his own meaning, while Syndrome wants to be praised for his ability, his usefulness. He too is insecure about his own natural ability, but not in terms of skills; it’s the idea of natural superpowers that bothers him. They’re too big and too meaningful, showing that there are sides of the wide world that he doesn’t understand. While Shen resents the acquired, earned skill in others’ kung fu, Syndrome resents the inborn, unearned powers in supers. Shen resents the usefulness in earned skill, while Syndrome resents the meaning in being intrinsically “special.”
Both Syndrome and Shen turn to machines to heal their insecurities. Syndrome casually invents machines to give him manmade powers, while Shen invents a machine to help him beat kung fu. Yet each focuses on opposite sides of their own accomplishments. For Syndrome, it’s all about ability. Usefulness. In a sense, it’s his way of saying, “See what I invented? That makes me more super than you. I take your usefulness away, and that makes you meaningless!” It’s from this more-useful-than-you attitude that Syndrome draws his meaning. As with all Thinkers, it’s usefulness first, with meaning derived from it.
By contrast, for Shen, it’s all about meaning. Shen never once brags, “Hey, look! I invented firearms!” Never once. He’s not focused on ability or usefulness; the whole point of his weapon is to make others meaningless. It’s his way of saying, “You think you have meaning? You think you have joy? You think you’ve earned it? With this weapon, I take your precious meaning away, and that makes you useless!” And from this more-meaningful-than-you attitude, Shen draws his sense of usefulness. As with all Feelers, it’s meaning first, with usefulness derived from it.
We could go on talking about other letter combinations and how they apply to Shen, but the point is that there’s always more to explore! There’s always so much to see about how each type thinks, how they live and what matters most to them.
For a quick example, all EFs look outside themselves to understand meaning. This has the result of causing them to want others outside of them to see and validate their meaning. Whether it’s for their own self or for their group, they want everyone to know that they’re meaningful! This does not have to be bad or competitive at all. As an ENFP, Po is an EF like Shen, and Po wants his meaning to be seen too, but only in a way that builds up others. For Po, showing his own meaning is a way of showing that anyone can be meaningful. If he doesn’t show it, then how will anyone ever get encouraged by it?
But for Shen, he wants to destroy others’ meaning in order to build up his own. And he needs that to be seen. Even when he has his enemies captive, he needs to wait until everyone’s watching before he can kill them. “Such sad, sad faces. But now is a time only for joy! You are going to be part of something beautiful. Once we reach the harbor, in front of all the world, you and your precious kung fu will die. And China will know to bow before me.” Yes, it’s the classic villain handicap of keeping the heroes alive, but in a distinctly EF way.
SF is of course an interesting combination, because as middle letters, it represents a person’s Objective. Sensing Feelers are all about the meaning of actual experiences. This causes them to focus on bringing about real joy and peace, and protecting it wherever they can. That’s the Objective of all the SFs. When combined with the outer letters of Scope, this takes on different effects: For ISFJs, it’s about creating and protecting happiness on a world scale. For ESFPs, it’s about the happiness of individuals as they already are. For ISFPs it’s about the joy of situations and details, and then for ESFJs like Shen, it’s all about the joys that can be attained through Action, for the benefit of their group.
When turned dark, though, this joyful Objective gets nasty. It’s not enough for Shen to kill Po; he wants to scar him, to break him. And as a result, Shen is the one who ends up broken.
As he’s lying in the shambles of his fleet, he looks up at Po and demands, “How did you do it? …How did you find peace? I took away your parents! Everything! I scarred you for life!” This is the dark inversion of the group-oriented joy of ESFJ. In Shen’s mind, nothing could be worse than taking away someone’s family and home. “I took away your parents” means “I took away your joyful group.” To Shen, this truly is everything. That should be sweet, but Shen makes it violent and bitter.
It’s not that this doesn’t hurt Po. It has indeed scarred him, and Po has spent the entirety of the film working through that. But because Po is healthy, he is able to fulfill his ENFP Type Specialization of finding who he is, and everything he can be. His healthy Type Spec overcomes Shen’s unhealthy inversion of his own.
This also brings up a really interesting cognitive twist in the movie. The whole story is about Po finding who he really is. He’s a panda raised by a sweet old goose as his adoptive father…and yet he’s never really put it together that he’s adopted. By the goose.
Po’s father, Mister Ping, really shines for the short time he’s in this movie. While in the first film he represented in part Po’s self-doubt and humble beginnings, in this one he embodies love, belonging, and the importance of having a place in the world. He’s the paradox in Po’s search for who he is: he’s the most loving person in Po’s life, and yet he’s a living demonstration that Po has no roots. Po wants to know his origins in order to know who he is, while his father is afraid that he doesn’t deserve to keep Po.
The interesting twist is that Mister Ping is ESFJ, a very healthy one after his experiences in the first movie. He’s entirely centered around bringing joy to people close to him, including his customers, but especially Po. So in this movie all about Po figuring out who he is and learning about his origins and his parents, who’s the villain? An ESFJ. The dark version of everything Po knows as loving, safe, and reliable. The dark side of his search for himself. This is just really cool.
While Po’s father reminds him that he has a place, that he’s his son, Shen taunts Po that he’s nothing and was abandoned by unloving parents. While Mister Ping spends the whole movie worried sick about losing Po, Shen spends the whole movie worried about how to get rid of him. Shen isn’t just hate, and he’s certainly not apathy; he’s the motivated, relentless inversion of love itself.
Of course that wasn’t intentional on the part of the writers, but perhaps they did intend to have Mister Ping and Lord Shen represent opposite poles that pull on Po. Or maybe they were just observant of what sort of villain Po needed, without being conscious of why. In any case, it’s always neat to see how the interplay of characters’ cognition brings out themes and observations about how real life works for all of us.
And Po shows all of us how to come through our scars safely. He tries running, he tries ignoring, he tries denying, but only by looking at the pain fully, for the first time in his life, does he find who he really is. As he says to a beaten Shen, “You gotta let go of that stuff from the past, because it just doesn’t matter! The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.” Now there’s a true ENFP theme, if ever there was one.
Shen needs Po’s ENFP insights, just as Po needs his father’s ESFJ perspective. This is the premise of the Type Heroes: we all need each other. Po needs Tigress’s advice, and she needs his encouragement. The beaten masters Ox and Croc need Po’s inspiration, just their tales always inspired him. This is the way healthy types work together, each needing all the others, each benefitting from the unique strengths and perspective of all the others.
Unhealthy people resent other types, just as Shen resents and belittles everyone. This is why we want to work so hard to show the reliable, scientific power of cognitive typing, because it builds everyone up. I think it says a lot that in order to tear others down, we have to resort to simplifications and stereotypes. When we let reality speak for itself, it ends up showing all of us how fantastic we already are, and how heroic and effective we can become. We don’t have to try to force cognition to be a positive thing; all it takes is getting to the reliable root, and then reality shows the rest.
I’d like to thank Gwen and Phil for sticking with us through this typing tutorial!
And now that we’ve walked through how typing works, and how it doesn’t, we’re going to stick our necks out and type all the major characters in both Kung Fu Panda movies! And if, inevitably, these pictures invite people to come and declare “Wrong! Shen is an INTJ villain!” then at least we can all be pretty sure they didn’t read the post.
Phil: Ten bucks says that happens.
Thanks again for reading! Now it should be easier to do character spotlights without having to worry about dispelling stereotypes every time! With Phase 2 almost ready to launch (and when you see it, you’ll know why it took all our energy for so long!), we’re looking forward to being able to do more actual posts again! We love you guys, and all the support and encouragement you give us! And if you haven’t seen already, you can use Patreon to get more stuff sooner, and vote on what that stuff’s gonna be! Stay tuned, there’s so much more to come!