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Some INTJ Reading

Thursday October 7, 2021

I finished Si Dunn’s military service memoir, Dark Signals recently and really enjoyed it. I thought I’d share some detailed thoughts on the book here, as well as some lessons learned.

Books like this always pique my interest: A lesser-known author, writing an autobiographical account of service in a technical discipline, involving an interesting or tumultuous setting (he served as a radio operator on a US Navy destroyer during the Vietnam War).

After reading the first few pages I started to wonder…did an INTJ write this? I would certainly offer that the author’s account of himself and his experiences lights up my “INTJ personality type” and “Ni-Te Cognitive Function Stack” buttons. There were a lot of interesting markers, right down to clear examples of the INTJ’s preferred metaphorical-visual language system.

OH! And yes, it IS a pretty awesome coincidence that the author served in the USG and carried the given name “Si.” Si being one of the eight Jungian cognitive functions, related to tradition, duty, bringing the past forward, rote learning, etc. I have enough Navy relatives to know for a fact that if you go Navy, or any other branch of the service, you gotta get on the Si train. Just to get that out of the way!

In a Nutshell

If you don’t have much time to read this post, let me just say that if the book sounds interesting, definitely read it. It’s a great deal, it’s extremely informational, the author shares fascinating insights about both technology and the war, and doesn’t attempt to conceal the difficult spots in his journey.

Lessons

Below are some lessons I can share, that I picked up from the book. They are not so much the author’s lessons as written; rather, these are my own conclusions, derived as I reviewed what I read.

I could be completely off about these, so I simply offer them for consideration. It is not my purpose to put the author on trial or anything like that—I’m just going off my interpretation of the text.

1. Competence Can Become a Huge, Life-Altering Blind Spot

The author returned to this topic again and again—while in the service, his drive for competence was essentially and continually punished, beyond a very basic level.

So, how can you recognize that level? And what do you do beyond that level? I think this is a very important question for INTJs everywhere.

If you don’t recognize that level, you will rob yourself of the prized feelings of leverage, efficiency, and control.

And if you don’t know what to do beyond that level, you will likely suffer from difficult perceptions of a boring, depressing world. This is a huge part of life, and IMO to appreciate the non-competency-focused parts is to enable oneself to fully enjoy a life journey.

Certainly there were some interesting sideline experiences in the book, but this was a very prominent thread.

The author suffered again and again while carrying out his core psychological mission of competence in an environment that was hostile toward this issue. He was officially recognized for his competency mainly once, from what I could tell, during his entire period of service.

2. Emotions are an Early Warning System and Should be Given Persistent Attention

The author revealed a variety of emotionally-challenging situations, and eventually revealed some direct consequences of his role and actions in those situations.

I don’t think this is a spoiler, so I’ll share that at one point he hurled overboard one of his physical possessions, and got called out on it. (Gently called out, but still, I’m sure it was a very touchy moment)

One opportunity that I now recognize as an experienced coach, that I didn’t recognize when I was around the author’s service age, is the possibility of using one’s emotions as a constantly-available warning system, or a threat-registration system that deserves a place right on the daily console.

A lot of times there’s no warning. And sometimes the warning received is “you’re in imminent danger,” but sometimes the warning is more like a complex system of feelings, plus a, “you’re tired,” and over time you might find, like I did, that it’s smarter to begin to track the emotions and their complexes like a movie detective follows somebody’s car around.

In my case, tracking “you’re tired” helped me crack through the surface emotions and completely open up the depression riddle.

INTJs can too easily lose track of emotional threads over time, and the resurgence of those threads can cause a lot of pain and frustration. (It’s waste and inefficiency, pure and simple!)

So, returning to metaphor: Where did the car go? Where did it come from? There’s value in finding out the answers, but there’s also a lot of value in knowing not to give up on this process.

The author did seem to try some simple experiments with emotional support activities, but they didn’t seem to go too well in the end, and they weren’t exactly followed up as if they were a core aspect of improving his overall experience.

Can you stay with it over time, with a deft grasp, is a good question for INTJs regarding emotional questions.

3. People Want to Help, in Their Way

There were some clear-to-me, but non-obvious examples of people trying to help the author enjoy a smoother time. Based on the author’s descriptions, I believe you could probably look at some of these people and understand their system of doing/being, if you knew what to look for.

Some aspects that blocked the author from getting involved with these systems:

  1. Subjective Contingency Thinking
  2. A Subjective Mind for Skills-improvement
  3. Subjective Idealism and Appeals to the Bigger Picture

But what’s really wrong with those? I mean, we love ‘em! These are a huuuuge part of being a systems thinker and a strategist!

Here’s what’s wrong with those: If you use them when everybody else around you expects you not to, and in a system in which being like everybody else is pretty much rewarded, you are getting in your own way.

So, it may seem like people don’t want to help, because they don’t appreciate your stuff. But in so many cases I’ve talked to those other people, because it’s part of my job, and they really do want to help.

It’s just they want to help in their way. To learn to appreciate that is like learning to appreciate a new food that you’ve never enjoyed before. Sure, I had to learn to enjoy plain, white rice by not pouring soy sauce all over it like a dummy. But now, there are few things I love more than a little bowl of plain white rice.

This is what I would call an advanced lesson for anybody, of any psychological type. I mentioned it in Some Lesser-known Rules for Life and I strongly believe this is a huge key to successful living and relating.

You gotta put those tools down and let other people lend you theirs, even if they feel awkward at first.

4. Being Clever Feels Like Cheating, Right Up Until it Saves Your Life

Si related a pretty funny episode in which he got clever and earned 4 hours of near-complete freedom during his early service period.

He closed this experience by relating that he thought it was really 8 hours, but in the end he outsmarted himself and would have had free time anyway, so it was really just 4 hours.

And…the end! That’s the end of the experience. It’s as if his takeaway was, “and I’ll never try that kind of thing again, because geez, I ONLY got 4 hours of extra free time.”

A lot of INTJs would look for a similar lesson, after being this tactical or opportunistic. They are caught up in systems of morality more than systems of contextual cleverness. So, instead of concluding, “next time DO be clever, but DON’T forget to check when you get liberty,” the conclusion is more like, “idiot, you thought you had it good, but don’t make that mistake again, nobody gets a free ride,” etc.

But: PEOPLE GET FREE RIDES ALL OF THE TIME, is a huge lesson.

And: CLEVER PEOPLE GET EVEN MORE FREE RIDES, is another one.

(Sure, I know a few INTJ-T types who, when spun out on unhealthy levels of attention to Se-Fi, could take advantage of the devil himself. But most of us—no way, the lesson is exactly what you’re running away from)

Anyway—this contextual creativity gets ignored just like the emotions, and the INTJ turns into a tortured martyr because now they’re back trying to single-handedly protest or turn the tides of the system, and—ughhhhhhh. Stress, frustration, repeat.

So if you join the Navy, or anything else, please be clever until you decide it’s cheating, and then, instead of stopping, figure out how to do it in a less-cheaty way. OK? Take care of yourself, be creative, watch more of your problems solve themselves.

Conclusion

It’s been fun to consider these lessons. There are many more in there, I’m sure.

Are you OK as you are, INTJs? Yes! But why do all that learning, if you don’t also appreciate the pure theory-meets-experiment thrill of changing core perspectives on life? Hmmm?

Sending warm greetings to all my readers! Have a great day.

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