By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Book Review | Published September 14, 2006
THE TEMPERAMENT GOD GAVE YOU: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord; by Art and Laraine Bennett; Sophia Institute Press, 2005; 265 pp; softback; $16.95.
You probably have friends and relatives who tend toward moodiness and introspection, while others seem amazingly self-confident and outgoing.
And if you have ever wondered what makes these folks tick, “The Temperament God Gave You” may answer your questions.
Our God-given temperament, say authors Art and Laraine Bennett, may be the explanation. After all, as any parent can attest, even the smallest baby exhibits patterns of reacting to the world, which are unique.
That is the premise of their very readable book, which offers readers an easy-to-take test to find out which of four temperaments they are.
We are born with a certain temperament, which is our hardwired predisposition to react in certain ways, the authors claim. But we can, with effort—and God’s grace—learn to shape and mold that temperament.
The chapters devoted to understanding the temperaments of friends, spouses and children are sure to engender some “ah ha!” moments.
As in: “Ah ha! So that’s why Johnny didn’t want to join the Boy Scouts.” Or: “Ah ha! Now I see why my sweetheart loves parties.”
Here’s a quick rundown: Melancholics are introverts who love truth and justice, lean toward perfectionism, and are prone to depression.
Cholerics are extraverts, highly motivated and driven to succeed, but with a tendency toward being overbearing and prideful.
People with a sanguine temperament are optimistic, fun loving and extraverted. But their fatal flaw is a failure to follow-through on projects.
And then there are phlegmatics, a group of calm and loyal introverts, who have a tendency to be lazy.
The authors claim that a parent who knows a child’s temperament will be able to challenge the typical “self talk” of the different types.
A choleric child, for example, grows up believing that self-worth is based on achievements and projects. While a melancholic child’s self-esteem is based on meeting his own very high expectations.
The book offers wonderful advice on relating to other people, and developing Catholic spiritual practices targeted to your specific temperament.
It will be a great springboard for married couples struggling to understand each other better, and for improving parent-child relationships.
The authors claim that, although our temperament is deeply rooted and given to us by God, we can still strive to overcome some of the potential pitfalls.
A melancholic, for example, tends to be a worrier, but if that person learns to put more trust in God and focuses less on negatives, she can make spiritual progress.
The book’s goal is a worthy one: to increase our self-knowledge so we can improve relationships with other people—and with God.
Catholics will especially appreciate the chapters on spirituality, where the gifts and weaknesses of each type are discussed, along with recommendations for improving one’s prayer life.
A few problems with the book: At times, the recommendations are too general. For example, the advice for the melancholy person is to “establish a personal relationship with Christ,” but no specifics are given.
Also, putting people into tidy categories can have dangers, especially if identifying one’s temperament becomes a teenager’s way of evading responsibility, as in: “I can’t help it. God made me this way.”
Clearly, spiritual improvement will not take place simply from taking the test in the book and finding your label. As the authors would agree, what comes next is what counts.
Overcoming temperamental weaknesses requires prayer, discernment, spiritual direction, constant vigilance – and, of course, God’s endless mercy and love.
Lorraine V. Murray is a regular columnist with The Georgia Bulletin and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Faith and Values section.