When I was a senior in high school, a teacher gave us a “thinking styles” test based on the work of Anthony Gregorc. We were presented with 15 lists of words (four words per list) and told to circle the two words in each list that best described ourselves, i.e.:
At the end of the test, there was a formula to determine what thinking style suited us best, Concrete Sequential, Concrete Random, Abstract Sequential, or Abstract Random. “Concrete” and “Abstract” referred to perception, whereas “Sequential” and “Random” described the way information is organized.
Much to my surprise and consternation, my thinking style was split 50-50 between Concrete Sequential and Abstract Random. “Great,” I thought, “I effectively have a split personality. My thinking style is evenly divided between two polar opposite ways of thinking; no wonder I’m so neurotic!”
In fact, the tug-of-war between my ordered, logical sensibilities and my spontaneous, “whatever works” approach to life is ongoing. Abstract Random is content to flit from one form of expression to the next: singing along with Lester Young solos today, writing a blog tomorrow, and roasting a pumpkin the following day will surely bear creative fruit in the long run, right? Meanwhile, Concrete Sequential rolls her eyes, makes a schedule and insists that nothing will be accomplished without clearly defined goals and priorities.
But really, aren’t we all kind of a mixed bag of at least a couple of contradictions? Many professional performers, despite living their lives onstage, are incredibly shy. I’ve known pastry chefs who don’t really enjoy sweets. My Midwestern mother, aunt, and former roommate all have a sunny disposition that utterly belies their steely, unsentimental tenacity. My friend F. is a Master Sommelier who prefers Belgian trappist beer to the fancy-schmancy wines he knows so well.
Now, after years of watching my inner taskmaster and free spirit do battle with each other, I’ve finally learned that each of them has something precious and essential to offer. Concrete Sequential is the organizer, planner, lone wolf, and pragmatist. Abstract Random is the people person, the intuitive guide, the one I bring to parties. I depend equally and unapologetically on both.
Our contradictions and our complexities are exactly what make us human. Our inner opposites can actually be a blessing, a divine guide of sorts on our journey through this amazing life.
Vive la difference!