Updated: Jul 24, 2019
Several months ago, I learned about Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies. (See https://gretchenrubin.com/2015/01/ta-da-the-launch-of-my-quiz-on-the-four-tendencies-learn-about-yourself/)
In short, the four tendencies describe four different patterns of responding to both inner and outer expectations in terms of our inclination to either meet or resist such expectations. These four tendencies are labeled as: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.
Of course, I took the quiz.
My first instinct to hearing I am a Questioner was relief.. until I heard the basic description: “Resists outer expectations, meets inner expectations”. I was like: “Wait a second, I totally do what’s expected of me! I am accountable and compliant and all the things!”. It was if I was simultaneously relieved and offended to find out that I am not an “Obliger” as I had anticipated.
And then, I read further: “I do what I think is best, according to my judgment. If it doesn’t make sense, I won’t do it.”
A-ha! There it is. This landed for me. It occurred to me that I used to be an Obliger. I used to be more focused on meeting outer expectations to the neglect of my inner expectations. For a long time, I focused most decisions on what was “expected of me” and what “I was supposed to do”. Somehow, through my own integration, development, and healing, however, it seemed as if I became more of a Questioner. As I read my results that day, I thought I was understanding that through the course of my life I had outgrown my Obliger tendency and developed a new, Questioner tendency.
That was my interpretation, at least, until two weeks ago when I had a second “a-ha” moment. This time, I was being led in a mindfulness exercise within a group setting. As a part of this exercise, I was invited to align with my Higher Power and ask for a memory from my childhood of a time when I experienced some element of pain or suffering.
For a few moments I struggled to find enough calm and quiet in my mind and spirit to become present and really listen. A memory didn’t seem to be coming and my activation increased as I worried about the exercise proceeding before I was ready. Just in time, however, I recalled an incident from when I was nine or ten years old. It was a time when I read in a newspaper of a decision made by my religious tradition that felt to my young soul to be non-compassionate and not in line with my spirit, although I wasn’t able to put it in those words at that time. All I knew then was that something didn’t feel right; it felt as if the powers-at-be where failing to “see the forest through the trees” so to speak and that the result was pain and loss for real people. Crying, I brought the article to my mom, the inspirer of my faith, craving an explanation that made sense. Her response was resolute and unequivocal, “Our job is to obey, not to question”.
I knew even then that that answer did not suffice for me… but, slowly, over time, I think I forgot. I think I started to obey more and question less. I think I learned how to become a Questioner in an Obliger’s body and an Obliger’s system.
Two weeks ago, as I continued to listen in and recall this memory, I heard a couple of powerful messages:
You are questioner: that is your gift.
You have always been this way.
Your job is to question, not to obey.
This in itself was huge, a relief, a confirmation. And yet, the revelation wasn’t quite complete.
As the meeting continued, we were led in the recitation of the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. I listened and imagined from a new perspective. I watched as the Pharisees and teachers of the law tried to get Jesus to obey the Law of Moses, which called for stoning the woman. Instead, I noticed how he responded with quietly and gently challenging the status quo. I can imagine Jesus going inside, tuning in and asking himself, “does this make sense to me? Does this align with my spirit?” and responding accordingly.
I thought to myself: Jesus was a questioner. And then I heard two more messages:
You, we, see differently.
In that instant, I felt peace. I felt validation. I felt myself breathe deeper. I felt the relief that comes from returning back to yourself and realizing you were right all along, you were never crazy after all.
With this expanded perspective, I have begun to see all of the little ways that this pull between my authentic self and how I think I “should” be shows up in my life. I can see how my questioner spirit enhances my ability as a chaplain to sit with people and advocate for their best interest, no matter if it aligns with my own best interest. And, I can see how years of “trying on” obliging shows up as self-doubt and admonitions me to not rock the boat and to stay out of trouble.
My hope is that in seeing my questioning as a gift rather than a failing, I can experience more freedom to be an agent of change… to invite difficult conversations and explore alternative ways of being and doing in the world.
To be sure, however, being an Obliger or an Upholder or Rebel also has gifts. My mom and her Obliger spirit have seen profound miracles; I am grateful that that tendency speaks to her and supports her. I am now just equally grateful to own and celebrate the fact that we get to have different tendencies, that we get to have different ways of being that are authentic to us each in turn. She is not wrong for hers. I am not wrong for mine. And, to be fair, there are times that I slip back into obliging and I am sure there are times that she questions.
Whether it shows up as a tendency or a completely different quality, I hope that you each can continue to remember and to embrace your truth. When you find it, I hope you can hold on to “who you have always been” with unapologetic tenderness and delight.
I hope it feels like coming home.