Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why StrengthFinders can be Dangerous

First I'd like to lay out a disclaimer.

I hate being pigeon-holed.  Totally and absolutely hate it.  I think secretly I'm a hipster, but maybe I just lack the self-esteem to rock out in skinny jeans and v-necks and listen to my favorite new band.

But being labeled, or pigeon-holed  just makes me squirm.  It even raises a bit of anger, honestly-- You think you can tell me who I am?!

There is a bit of rebel inside of here, so maybe don't be surprised if you just run into me one day and I'm sporting sleeve-tattoos and a huge tongue ring.  Nah, who am I kidding, I'd be scared to death to get a needle pushed through my tongue; I frighten worse than my 4 year old little girl at doctor's appointments.  Though I wouldn't put sleeve-tattoos past me.

All that to say that I naturally bristle at personality tests.  I feel they give us way too much liberty to define both ourselves and others and put us all in neat little boxes.  We are far more complex creatures than we can probably sometimes even fathom, and these tests just seem, to me, like they are just cheap little ways to minimize and dumb-down our complexity.

So with that as a backdrop, I'm having one major problem with the StrengthsFinder test as it concerns a christian perspective:

The premise of the test is mostly all wrong.

The general idea is that if you find out your strengths, and then learn to maximize those strengths, you will be a successful person.  If you have the strength of Responsibility, for instance, put yourself in situations (at work, at home, in relationships) in which you can more often live out of that strength.  For the particular strength of Responsibility, for example, maybe put yourself in environments in which you are trusted, where you need to finish tasks, or where you are counted on to follow through on your commitments.  Doing these things, so the premise of the test goes, will maximize both your happiness and fulfillment in life, and your effectiveness.

Nothing to disagree with yet, right?  Well yes, I have one problem with that idea, and it gets at the root of identity and sin.

We become the people we are through a complex interplay of culture, genetics, and probably a thousand other things you could list.  These things (our families, cultures, genes, schools, etc) can be, from the Christian perspective, either good and holy things, or fallen and broken things.  For example, you can develop patterns in your life and personality from your family's unhealthy ability to relate emotionally just as easily (and arguably way easier) as you could develop healthy patterns from a godly friend.

Our personalities and gifts are created as a response to our surroundings.  These personal gifts could be very bad things indeed.

You may have the strength of responsibility.  This may be a god-given, holy spirit graced strength, or it may be as a result of hard things in your life.  You may have had a difficult or domineering father or teacher and as a result you learned that the only way NOT to get yelled at or demeaned or let others down was to act responsibly.  You learned to develop this responsibleness, making a vow with yourself never to be made fun of again because of shoddy or unfinished work.
I would say, then, that your strength is not actually a strength at all, but a coping mechanism.  It's your way of dealing with the world.  You are motivated by fear and shame, not by grace and the gospel.  This is sin, and is, obviously, very dangerous.

You may have the strength of woo.  Again, God may have blessed you with his natural gifting to relate quickly and passionately with others.  God loves others, so do you.
Or, you may be a chronic people-pleaser.  you may have been made fun of as a child and made a vow to yourself never to be disliked again.  You then develop a personality strength that gives your vow the best chance to be upheld.  You win others over only for your own ego, and to make you feel good about yourself.  This is selfish to the core.  From a christian perspective, rather than woo being a strength, it is a plague on your true self--it is a false self.

So, instead of just taking this test, finding our strengths, and then moving to activate them, I would like to propose that we take some time to think and dwell upon why we have the personality we do in the first place.  Do our personal strengths come from honest, spirit-led talents or gifts, or do they come from some fear or shame?  Am I the way I am because of God and his people, or because this particular gift/strength is something I've developed as a way of coping with my hardships and a painful world?

I'm decent at basketball.  It is a strength.  And I'll tell you why, 2 reasons: First it's because I never wanted to be picked last (fear and shame), and secondly, it's because I wanted others to praise my game (pride and ego).  

Substitute basketball for intellect in the above paragraph and it works the same.

These are absolutely not strengths I want to maximize.  They are ones I want to bring before the cross and let Jesus redeem, or as needed, crush.  Join me.


Brian Clark said...

dang! I am WOO...and now I realize it is all because I am one big people pleaser! Now I know:), do I think differently than you do. I can't even wrap my mind around some of the stuff you said here. Yet it is so good to have that perspective in a friend. I need to think of the other side of things. I am a bigggg Bart Shadle fan...anyone else?!

Bart Shadle said...

Ha, Brian. Was wondering what you'd think being a "woo" guy.

My wife has "responsibility" first, so you should know that I'm not grinding any ax here ;) Unless I'm some sort of sick masochist, which may or may not be true.

Melody Latrice said...

Bart, I enjoyed reading your post. You provided a great collection of ideas here. I believe that our strengths are that blend of culture, family, experiences, God's gifts and also the hard things in life that test and try us by fire to shape and change us too. There is a fine line between how behavior based on environment can shape our responses and actions in situations, leading to what some view as strengths and others as coping mechanisms. Perhaps the balancer is the heart behind the action. If I respond instinctively because that's my gift to so, it seems the strength is at play. But if I think before making that action and adjust it based on other realities or factors, perhaps I'm behaving versus living out my strength. Sometimes doing so can be viewed as sin - anything that falls short of God's best. But I think sometimes doing so isn't an intentional mark to sin and disregard the gospel; perhaps it's more so an indication that there is a deficit, a fear, a wound and one is trying to find the best way to navigate the waters that are before them. I actually just took Strength Finders 2.0 now, for the second time in about 6 years. My top 5 strengths 6 years ago were input, intellection, empathy, strategic and learner. My top 5 today are strategic, empathy, adaptability, input and intellection. I lost learner but gained adaptability. Pretty cool and interesting. I feel these strengths help me better understand myself and the person I'm becoming. I appreciated your blog post.

Bart and Melissa Shadle said...

Good thoughts Mel. And I'm glad you liked the test! For sure the goal of the post wasn't to get people to stop taking it, but just to raise some thought about the possibility that our strengths could actually be hindering us from being our true selves, creating instead only fear/shame driven selves.

Melody Latrice said...

Cool beans :)