“I think personality traits that come through when somebody is really sincere is what makes them beautiful.” Taylor Swift
The Big Five
While growing up in Kenya and going to school, I can remember vividly learning about the “Big Five” game animals; lion, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo, and elephant. I wonder if the cheetah would have something to say about this list if asked. Initially, the “Big Five’ were so named by hunters because they represented the most difficult animals to hunt down. More importantly, now, they symbolize the choice sight of every tourist who goes on a safari. While these animals are grouped into one category, they are quite different. From distinct physical appearances to diverse eating habits, you can better appreciate these animals by knowing more about them.
Lions hunt in groups called prides. They sleep about 20 hours a day, which I am sure the rest of the jungle is pleased about. A lion’s roar can be heard within a five-mile radius, and its sound is equivalent to 25 lawnmowers running simultaneously. Leopards are fast, agile, and have superior night vision. The buffalo, which resembles cattle, is unpredictable and aggressive. Their unpredictable nature makes them an onerous prey for the lion which is their number one predator. For the largest animal on dry land, the elephant is surprisingly quiet in movement. This owes to the shock-absorbing pads that they have under their feet. But they have very sensitive skin that gets irritated even by the smallest of insects. Hence the use of mud on their skin for natural sunscreen and insect repellent. They also possess a unique long-range communication system that allows them to keep in touch with other elephants far away. Elephants are a tight-knit group. To them, family is everything. Lastly, the rhino is one of the most endangered species on the planet because of its horns that can fetch a high price on the black market. Rhinos like ballet dancers can run on their toes. For all their fierceness, rhinos are grazers. But don’t think that makes them soft. A hit from a rhino could mean instant death. Just as these animals have different defining traits, so do we as people have different traits, which can be termed as personality. And it is by knowing people more that we learn their personality.
I define personality as the traits through which you express who you are. Ann Bogel, the author of Reading People, refers to personality as “ the characteristic pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behavior that make a person unique.” From her explanation, we can agree that each person differs in their personality because, to begin with, it is personal, just like your fingerprints. Fingerprints and personalities are only viewed as distinct once they are expressed. While your fingerprints may be expressed on paper, your personality is expressed as you relate and respond to the canvas of your environment. This is how your personality contributes to your S.H.A.P.E. I believe your standards, habits, and attitude play an integral role in your personality, hence the reason it comes after them. They provide the ingredients necessary to bring out your personality with style and substance. Without style, the substance can become boring, and without substance, style is empty. When both come together in the name of personality, the authentic you is on display for all to see. For example, many have criticized Pastor Joel Osteen for his motivational style of preaching. When asked, he said, “I’ve always been, you know my personality is motivating and encouraging. And so, I am just being who God made me to be.” And that authenticity, despite a myriad of criticism has helped him flourish in his calling.
The Big Five relate and respond to their environment differently based on their make-up. Although in the same big cat family, lions are social while leopards are mainly anti-social. Yet they both thrive because they do not operate outside the jurisdiction of their characteristics. The reason why crisis doesn’t change who we are but reveals who we are instead is that our personalities come out no matter how hard we may try to conceal them. The internal place where personality shines from is called the soul.
The way we relate with or respond to our environment, which is how we express our personality, is drawn from the soul. Just like a mirror reveals your face, your personality reveals your soul. Your soul is comprised of your mind, will, and emotions. Your thinking, choosing, and feeling affect your personality. And what you feed your soul has a direct correlation with how you express your personality. If you feed your soul, a constant diet of fear, worry, and anxiety, they will influence your personality. But if you feed it hope, gratitude, and other life-giving ingredients, your personality will reflect it.
Appropriateness is also key. It means understanding what is suitable for the present circumstance. Going back to the Big Five, it is interesting that the same lion’s teeth that can shred prey to pieces are the same teeth that can pick up their cubs and carry them without causing harm. I believe personality is not only about type but of equal or greater importance is how and when we express our personality. For all the criticism Joel Osteen has received, he is one of the most listened to communicators during this pandemic. His hope-filled personality is ripe for a time where hope is low and fear is high. We are all equipped with the right personality, not just to survive but thrive in the circumstances we are in. As Paul P. Harris put it, “Personality has the power to uplift.”
Final thought: It is not as easy to group people into personality categories like animals in the Big Five. Just as a lock can have many combinations, we are uniquely endowed with varying traits that combine to make up our personality. What matters more than these classifications is that we get to know and understand each other more by being a safe place where thoughts, choices, and feelings can be heard and not judged. In doing so, we will allow the people around us to express themselves authentically, which at the end of the day makes our relationships richer.
Keep on Keeping on!
Growing us in Kenya as well, I really enjoy reading this post. I love the way you use the big five to teach us about personality. Great post.