KatherineGray, Staff Reporter & NicRasool, Features and News Editor
One of the oldest questions we ask as humans is, ‘Who am I?’ While we will likely never know the full extent of the answer, we can certainly come close. Personality evaluations are quite popular nowadays, from Myers-Briggs to Buzzfeed quizzes. However, people’s results can sometimes change through time and often tell us very little. In terms of truly knowing who you are as a person, though, it goes beyond personality into a far deeper sphere: temperament.
The idea of temperaments originally began as The Four Humors, a concept developed by the Greek physician Hippocrates. The humors followed the belief that certain crude biofluids are the basis of human personality and influence us in our daily lives. Around 130 A.D. following Hippocrates, Galen, a major influencer of Western medicine of the time, described the physiological reasons for the four humors existing. He classified them as hot, cold, dry or wet, based on the four conventional earthly elements, fire, water, air and earth. These classifications ultimately came to be known as choleric, melancholy, phlegmatic and sanguine. The concept was further developed by Persian physician and polymath Ibn Sina (Avicenna) in his book, “Canon of Medicine,” which expanded the humors to include emotional and moral attitudes of humans. Over time, the humors became better known as temperaments, and they were incorporated into different personality studies and assessments such as the Myers-Briggs test. While usage of the temperaments has faded in medicine, they have continued to be relevant in some psychological fields.
According to Dictionary.com, one’s temperament is currently defined as “the combination of mental, physical and emotional traits of a person; [their] natural predisposition.” It is the basis of who you are, your innate needs, strengths and weaknesses, far more than simple extraversion or introversion. Over the course of your life, this will never change. The four basic temperaments are choleric, melancholy, phlegmatic and sanguine. As these words already have inherent connotations, you may think, ‘I don’t want to be a choleric, I’m not mad all the time.’ However, the meaning of these words in psychology is far deeper than how modern society defines them.
The powerful choleric is known for their leadership capabilities, and their deepest desire is to be in charge. They exude confidence and are quite involved in whatever opportunities are presented to them. Generally extroverted, they can be persuasive at their best and manipulative at their worst. Their basic needs are loyalty, a sense of control, appreciation and credit for their own work. They are usually the people to step up and delegate assignments in a group project. In an emergency or time of stress, like during a fire or a final exam, they usually excel and know how to handle the situation. In terms of weaknesses, they can be rude, tactless, arrogant or unempathetic. The struggle of balancing the desire for progress and understanding the needs of others is common for many cholerics. Their goal-oriented nature sometimes leads to them being workaholics who don’t know how to relax. If you have a choleric friend, consider encouraging them to accept affection, realize that others may be right and look for ways to validate the creativity of others.
The perfect melancholy is known for their thoughtful and conscientious mannerisms and for their desire for perfection and justice. They remain introspective and artistic in a variety of ways, such as writing or dancing, are typically the people who discuss or think about philosophical ideals or are generally conscientious of themselves and those around them. They are effective planners. As the name suggests, they are people who tend to focus on the negatives and despise imperfection; however, a person with a melancholy temperament is not necessarily melancholic. While melancholies are not people-oriented, they are faithful, devoted and have a deep concern for other people. Should you ever meet a melancholy person, know that they normally desire perfection and space; they don’t necessarily dislike you, but instead they simply enjoy time to themselves. Encouraging them to speak up more or develop their creative abilities would most likely help them better develop and open up.
The peaceful phlegmatic is known for their tranquil nature; they are mediators and the type of friend who will help maintain harmony. These people will typically be calm, cool, easygoing and relaxed, keeping their emotions hidden from others, all in the name of avoiding conflict. While they tend to be worried, indecisive or may resist change, they are also pleasant, witty and compassionate. If you have a phlegmatic friend, they may seem relatively lazy or unenthusiastic. However, if you encourage them to speak up more and trust in themselves, then they will be able to better themselves and further develop their relationships.
The playful sanguine is known for their fun-loving nature and ability to make people smile. Their innate needs are approval, acceptance, attention, appreciation and affection, the “5 A’s” if you will. Typically extroverted, at their best they are joyful and creative and at their worst they are forgetful and undisciplined. They are usually the life of the party and excel in the spotlight. Their joy is infectious and they know how to inspire those around them. The fact that they cope well with change and are cheerful makes them very enjoyable to be around. In terms of shortcomings, they can often be naive, forgetful, attention-seeking and have their priorities out of order. If you know a sanguine, encouraging them to aim for quiet dignity, remember their obligations and take the time to filter their thoughts will help to make them more productive and happy.
It is important to remember that even though temperaments are very applicable, they are not set in stone. They simply are leveraged as needed, and the qualities will not all necessarily apply to everyone. Cholerics may sometimes be the most understanding people around and melancholies could be the brightest and most cheerful people you know. Your phlegmatic friend may be outgoing and decisive while your sanguine lab partner may be highly focused and quiet. The temperaments will exhibit themselves differently, but their greatest value lies in the base desires and the emphasis on how our variations make us strong. Where the choleric is lacking, the phlegmatic is right there to pick up the slack. Where the melancholy falters, the sanguine is able to fill the gap. Thus, we all can learn how to be cohesive society that works with each other rather than expecting people to act the same way.
While personality assessments are not always the most effective tool in understanding yourself, they do allow for self-reflection as they ask questions you don’t normally consider relevant. The Myers-Briggs test, for example, asks whether you would want a child who is smart, or a child who is kind. This form of questioning typically forces introspection, at least when a person is attempting to answer them honestly, which in turn can allow them to better understand themselves as a whole. The temperaments, while they do remain different from other personality tests as they are typically believed to remain constant throughout one’s life, are one such assessment that forces examinees to acknowledge different aspects of themselves in order to accurately answer questions.
Whether for the sake of better understanding others or understanding oneself, the temperaments are extraordinarily useful. Seeing life through the filter of others is incredibly important for empathy, and this can help to bring very different people together. Understanding that the choleric has a hard time relaxing but is a great leader can help those around them to both give them opportunities to shine and tips on how to unwind. Knowing that the melancholy may be depressed by imperfections but have a deep appreciation for beauty can enable those close to them to know how to view their emotions and engage them in things they enjoy (ie. ballets, museums, concerts, etc.). Realizing that the phlegmatic may struggle with motivation but are also incredibly compassionate will permit those around them to encourage them to be the best they can be. Accepting the sanguine’s forgetfulness and need to enjoy life can allow their friends to appreciate their desire for attention and help them with efficiency and organization. As always, none of these characteristics are final, but understanding the innate needs of others can help to bring us together as a society and foster acceptance for all of humanity.