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Looking into stuff: Facing untruths, half-truths, and betrayals of the past

Thursday October 8, 2020

Lately I’ve been looking into more of the stories I’ve been told. Have you ever done this? It’s kinda hard, starting from the standpoint of “let’s question a thing I currently believe,” but it’s important.

I’m doing this more often these days, because years ago I started to realize that “looking into things” is one of those things that our introversion tries to prevent us from doing, even though it’s a pretty healthy activity and beneficial in a lot of ways.

And by “our introversion tries to prevent us,” I mean everyone’s introversion—extroverts included.

We’ve all got these deep and comfortable introverted personality aspects. We really like to think we know our past well.

From there we tend to automatically interlace two powerful meta-constructs: “Things I was Taught in My Past” and “My Identity”. When that happens without a healthy amount of looking into things, or exploring things, or testing things, then some really, really troubling problems can develop.

I remember when I first faced some of these problems in my own past. I had decided to look into the things I believed. Take health and wellness, for example. I challenged my mental models, learned some new perspectives, and tested some others’ models, and in doing so I lost a huge amount of weight and overcame challenging health conditions. That was a huge lesson. Afterward I felt really confused, and almost speechless. How could I have not known that things could be this good? How could I have just “decided” that my life was fine, or great, or not in need of examination of the status quo? In fact, my favored connection to my past, this introverted aspect, had blinded me to the possibility.

Then I watched some troubling problems develop in some people close to me, when they didn’t look into things. I also learned that you could see this happen in a whole organization—this one pattern alone is really incredible! People don’t look into stuff, and they try to convince their peers not to look into stuff. A conspiracy of introversion, conscious or not. The group might even push back with all their energy to protect their past, forming their identity as it does, but without ever really knowing why, or what the alternative might be.

Some Problems With Looking Into Things

The hard thing about this kind of activity is that it constantly threatens to upset the status quo. It’s like a natural enemy to stability. A group may in fact be wise to react against it in the short term, until the investigative effort proves that it has a good foundation and some momentum. After all, if the qualitative aspects of the new discoveries are really not so great, maybe you just destroyed an organization, or disrupted it, for no good reason.

It’s also troubling in the sense that it may cause you or your group to take steps that needlessly break down or hobble ongoing relationships of support and mutual appreciation. If you get upset and start lobbing truth-bombs at people, the emotional impact alone—long before the information is processed—will likely cause them to reevaluate your relationship. That’s a big deal. It may also cause neutral third parties to wonder if really you have a handle on your own emotion. This can call the new information itself into question.

Plus, we can’t look into everything. Sometimes we have to set a boundary. I think it’s wise to do this consciously, if possible. Like, “OK, I did a full day’s research and I’m pretty sure my aunt isn’t a serial killer. But I’m not 100% sure. Still, for now I’m OK hosting her here at my house with the following contingencies in place…” (Sorry—took some creative liberties with the example)

Finally, the Star Trek factor: You are charting a course into the unknown. If you don’t have much experience in working with the unknown, it can be really troubling. Some INTJs are good at this—they have developed frameworks for evaluating brand new, world- or life-changing information, for example.

Other INTJs are not good at this at all—in their rush to “never be caught not knowing something,” they have unwittingly left open a huge blind spot where new information is concerned, a blind spot which they papered over with improvised “pretendings-to-know” or “vaguely-knowing”. When a new and uncomfortable question arises, they are left to improvise, and sometimes it’s embarrassing to watch. Usually they talk faster, and even more informationally than usual, and trying to talk to someone like this can feel like you’re witnessing a computer that is overheating or something.

Why it’s Still a Good Idea

Even though there are risks, there are some really great rewards available when we look into things.

First, a lot of past beliefs are really low-hanging fruit. They’re easy to look into, very easy to research, and the conclusions are probably helpful, but probably also not destructively, explosively helpful.

For example, let’s say you keep regretting a career move you made in the past. You defend it when talking to others, but in truth you still have doubts.

It causes you to wince a bit, but you go back to your memory, write out the story as you remember it, and then you talk to some other people, or do some research about the alternatives. You realize that your intuition about the move was right, but maybe your decision-making process was hampered by a mind that was more closed off than it could have been. There were alternatives that you didn’t consider, that you should have. This is a lesson that’s probably not going to destroy your life, and you can apply it forward the next time you face a big decision.

Second, it helps to know that you made a decision grounded not only in your past, but also by your exploration of a broader set of current and future contexts. For example, maybe you made a spreadsheet of financial projections and realized that within a few months you’ll be able to afford a vacation you previously thought sounded really extravagant. Or maybe you were hesitant about adopting a pet and decided to talk to some friends about it. You shared your concerns and they came back to you with some really great feedback.

Third, people around you probably need this talent. And you’re good at it. INTJs tend to be good researchers, good investigators. We may be able to help people who are suffering with severe doubts and a lack of emotional energy, by showing them new informational aspects or facts they hadn’t considered.

As long as we can keep an open mind and communicate gently, we may even be in a fantastic position to help other people uncover life-changing information and make positive decisions about it. (Gentle communications are hard sometimes—especially, I find, if the new information is exciting or world-changing. Or if you think of yourself as a “straight dope” person, like a hard-boiled detective. Just keep in mind these types aren’t known for being deft relationship navigators.)

…I should also mention that you may need to be gentle with yourself! Your old self is likely very forgivable…

Fourth, the world needs this talent. And you’re good at it. We are, all of us, simultaneously hoping for, and fearing, the future. We INTJs can develop a sort of hidden superpower, in laying out an optimistic case and planning for a way to achieve it, plus maybe a couple of contingency plans. You know what I mean? It feels good to be idealistic, so let’s do that. But let’s also have the backup plans ready. We’re covering our bases, but we’re not giving up on a positive, responsive, and flexible approach to new problems and outcomes. In my experience, this balanced approach will usually bring good results, faster.


Personally, I will happily admit that I don’t know where this is taking me, and I’ve learned to be OK with that. In my experience, the activity is more helpful, the more I give it attention.

Does this make you more of an extroverted person? If so—fine. The idea here is transcendence of opposites, rather than swinging between two poles of introversion and extroversion. The new person you become over time will simply be better prepared after learning to fluently navigate a variety of different perspectives, stories, hopes, and fears.

Filed in: Thinking /70/ | Control /110/ | Relationships /78/ | Openness /49/ | Essays /52/ | Feeling /64/ | Therapeutic Practice /144/ | Productivity /119/

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