36 - How Tidy Is Your Elephant?
Swimming in our own OCEAN
How tidy do you like your room to be?
Some of us are fine with places being kind of messy, as long as we can find things and not trip over anything. Others are uncomfortable when anything is not in its proper place.
We don’t often think of “tidiness” as being a “favorite thing,” but all it takes is a quick glance around the room you’re in right now to let you know just how tidy you like your environment to be. And, your Elephant knows this preference instinctively. (Here’s a quick overview of the Elephant/Rider framework.)
Asking someone how tidy they like things to be is kind of like asking them how clean their car is. There’s tidy…and there’s TIDY; your car can be clean…or CLEAN. We usually employ the word, “enough” to help us here. My room has to be tidy enough for me to do what I need to do without being disrupted by tripping over things or not finding what I need. My car has to be clean enough for me not to have to move anything to drive it or for other people to be able to ride in it without sitting or stepping on anything. You know…tidy enough!
But, where does that “enough” standard come from?
Historically, philosophers and mythologists captured different ways of living by using a range of metaphors. In Greek mythology, individual gods each embodied specific sets of human traits. Apollo and Dionysus, for example, were both sons of Zeus, born of different mothers. Apollo was the god of the sun, art, music, dance, logic, and rational thinking. Clarity. Dionysus, the god of wine, dance, pleasure, irrationality and chaos. Ambiguity. Two very different sets of traits, characteristics, behaviors, and preferences.
Friedrich Nietzsche similarly described two opposing aesthetic approaches in his 1872 work, The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche pointed out two dramatically different sets of traits in Apollo and Dionysus, and described their two contrasting approaches to aesthetics as “Apollonian” and “Dionysian.” Broadly, Dionysian reality is ambiguous: “disordered and undifferentiated by forms”; Apollonian, clear: “ordered and differentiated by forms.” This writer says: “The Apollonian is the art of light and calm reason. On the other hand, the Dionysian is the art of madness, emotion, ecstasy, and above all, unity.”
Let’s call these two approaches, the untidy, messy Dionysian versus the tidy, orderly Apollonian.
Psychologists have sought ways to describe human personality for over a century. The Big Five personality model has become the predominant framework for describing people for the last 40 years. The model describes ways that we vary from one another on five traits, using the acronym, OCEAN:
Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless)
Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. critical/rational)
Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident)
It’s not hard to see the Apollonian/Dionysian distinction as reflective of differences in the Conscientiousness trait. The Apollonian desire for order could be described as High Conscientiousness (or, “High C”); the appeal of the less structured, more chaotic Dionysian as Low Conscientiousness (“Low C”.) Of course, these categorizations are not absolute, nor are they universal. Each of us has moments of each; moments “when” we are organized and efficient and moments “when not.” Plus, all personality traits are contextual and situational. Having said that, we all have typicalpatterns or comfort zones. Those patterns are what we use to define the “enough” part of “tidy enough.”
A High C person (Apollonian) will be more likely to normally create orderly environments than someone who is Low C (Dionysian). These differences show up in many ways. Punctuality. Deadlines. Dusting furniture. Tidiness. High Cs and Low Cs will usually approach all of these tasks differently.
We all have people in our lives who are reliably punctual and organized in whatever they do. And, those whom we’ve come to know as people who show up for things “kind of on time,” or who proudly proclaim themselves as “improvisational,” in their approach to performing tasks. Over the course of our lives, our Elephants become monitors of our own patterns. One thing out of place will stir an Apollonian Elephant to put it “where it belongs.” The Dionysian Elephant may not have even noticed.
It’s interesting to note our Elephants’ characteristic ways of living and to contrast them with the way others in our lives approach similar tasks. The differences are often the source of continual irritation and frustration between people (“why can’t he ever pick things up around the house?”) If your Dionysian Elephant lives with an Apollonian one, perhaps your Rider needs to be enlisted to help keep the differences from becoming big problems. Changing our own Elephant’s approach is hard enough; changing another person’s…. As is the case with any differences, the key is learning to accept the other’s way of living.
Just as long as we can keep things, “tidy enough,” that is!
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