Thursday, June 2, 2016

Personality Assessment

The fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers contains an interesting assortment of lists. Among these listings are several that compare, contrast and label human behavior patterns. For instance, the 14th Mishna defines four patterns of temperament: (1) Easy to provoke and easy to appease - the loss is cancelled by the gain, (2) Hard to provoke and hard to appease - the gain is cancelled by the loss, (3) Hard to provoke and easy to appease - this is a saintly person, and (4) Easy to provoke and hard to appease - this is a wicked person. Pirkei Avot 5:15 follows a similar pattern, but focuses instead on the ability to acquire knowledge: (1) Quick to learn and quick to forget, the gain is cancelled by the loss, (2) Slow to learn and slow to forget, the loss is cancelled by the gain, (3) Quick to learn and slow to forget, this is a happy lot, and (4) Slow to learn and quick to forget, this is an unhappy lot.

Those who read these two sets of comparisons may nod their heads knowingly. After all, these assessments are not particularly novel, but rather appear as common sense. The fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot provides much insight about how to live one’s own life and how to view the lives of others. While those who read the above passages may chuckle at how accurately these descriptions fit certain friends and acquaintances, they are intended to increase one’s compassion for others.

A second reading of the passages, however, inspires a person to look deeper at one’s own life. One may be inspired to pay more attention to detail or to work harder on anger management. The deeper wisdom of these passages in Pirkei Avot is evidenced by learning that by reflecting on others, one is better able to reflect on oneself.

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