Putting People into Categories: The Possible and Impossible

Every self is a universe, surrounded by other selves, all of whom are moving through a world of their own construction that exists in a vast, maybe infinite, physical universe.

This is the dichotomy of the physical/psychosocial reality.

Can We Categorize? 

Confronted with a reality of such scope and magnitude, it’s natural to want to make sense of it somehow, to put things in boxes, to file phenomena into one category or another. It may be the only way we are not paralyzed by confusion and perceived chaos, stuck in wide-eyed wonderment. But is it worth it to even try and understand?

People are dynamic, multi-dimensional, multi-layered creatures. No two are alike. It would be impossible to try to say that everyone fits into one of, say, seven categories. But we are all still people, confronted with the same physical reality and instilled with the survival instinct, the biological imperative, the desire for acceptance and fulfillment, and the will and ability to affect our own reality.

Pieces of us can and do fit into boxes.

One Box of Many 

I’ve been grappling with THEE’s Interacting for Benefit framework for a couple of months now, learning the seven primary ways in which people handle each other when they want something. If I can give any advice to those about to embark on that fascinating journey, it would be to remember that these mentalities are not the whole person. I fell into that trap briefly and I was seeing everyone I know as this-centered or that-centered.

Interacting for Benefit is just that—how we go about dealing with others as we try to better ourselves and our respective situations. That is all. And while this does actually encompass a huge part of who we are on a day-to-day basis, it is far from everything that a person is.

You don’t have to be kinship-centered to love your family. You don’t have to be cause-centered to want to see a change in the world. Countless factors combine to make up you and who you are.

So where do you fit in? 

If you read through the framework, without ego, and find that certain mentalities seem like you, they probably are. If you find that you have an aversion to a mentality, you find yourself thinking, “What’s wrong with these people?” That’s not you. Also, it’s a natural reaction to think that they are all you—which is true to an extent—but one or two mentalities tend to dominate an individual. There are countless reasons why this might be the case including your genetic predispositions or the culture you were raised in.

It’s important to remember that those of opposing mentalities do exist. Even if you actively try to avoid them, they’re out there. Chances are that, at some point, you are going to have to interact with them for your benefit. For a more in depth discussion of this concept, refer to the previous blog, “You can’t change people.”

Combined, all mentalities serve many necessary purposes in a well-functioning society.

  • Power-centered people are necessary in government, military, and organizations in general. The world needs leaders. 
  • Perspective-centered people are needed to point out injustice in society or some paradigm that simply isn’t working. 
  • Market-centered people create wealth and productivity in society. 
  • Cause-centered people promote change. Things regularly need changing, after all. Etc. Etc. 
Our Future

The first Enlightenment was about science, reason, the power of the individual, ideas, and a distance from superstition. The 21st Century Enlightenment is about self-awareness (who are you?) and awareness of others in a world much larger, more complex, more integrated, and more connected than only Europe and her colonies.

Future blogs are going to look at how people make decisions—just another categorization of a small part of who people are. Understanding people in terms of their Interacting for Benefit mentality and how they make decisions goes a long way in understanding them in relation to yourself and your endeavors.

And to answer the question: Is it worth it to try and understand? For the record, it’s always better to know.

Accepting Personal Responsibility

I think life can be metaphorically compared to economics: everything has its price.

The price for freedom is personal risk. The price for safety is freedom.

 Understand that the price you pay for your reality is a choice, a way in which you create your reality yourself. Psychosocial reality comes with a price. An endeavor costs time, energy, and probably even real money. Communicating an idea costs the risk that it will be negated, disputed, shot down, and maybe you will be a social cast-aside because of your ideas.

I was, for some time, involved with a grassroots activist group. We had a lawyer on our side and one of his favorite phrases was: “Civil disobedience means nothing if you are not aware of how you are being disobedient, why you are being disobedient, and the risks of your disobedience.“

The moral of this one powerful sentence is an important feature of the 21st Century Enlightenment: personal responsibility.

 For us to be effective, to change our psychosocial reality, to change our world, to benefit individually and as societies, and to make good choices, it is imperative that we are aware of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and have some sense of the risks and costs involved in what we do.

After awareness, we must realize that, if we move forward, we do so at our own risk. If we don’t tackle the challenges that are our own making, if we don’t gather enough information, if we don’t consider the context of what we do and we fail, there is no one to blame but ourselves. One of my first blogs for this project, What do People Want?, touched on this concept in political terms:

A political shift (and one is sorely needed) can only come when the citizens of a democracy realize that they voted for their politicians, that they knew their representatives were corrupt, lying, self-serving, power-hungry people and yet, when election time rolled around again, they vote for them again!

 In individual terms—having to do with you and your decisions and interactions—there is no difference.

You, and only you, control your determination and your choices. Even though other people, social conditions, and various other outside influences can and will probably affect your outcomes, to assume responsibility is much more productive and conducive to growth and development that being irresponsible—which will get you nowhere.

Easy ways to express personal responsibility include, for example: If you make a mistake at work—admit it, own it, and fix it yourself. Or, if you know how to do something properly yet you take the easy route (or cheap route or short route or whatever) and your endeavor doesn’t go well, then there’s no one to blame but yourself!

This is a difficult way to live your life. It takes suspending your ego and taking heat from others—your boss, your spouse, police, etc. But be careful, if word gets around that you’ll assume responsibility for anything, you’ll quickly become a scapegoat.

If living this way is difficult and I am advocating it, then I must think there’s some benefit, right? A combination between awareness and personal responsibility in politics would prevent history from repeating itself. The idea that this silver-tongued politician is better than the last silver-tongued politician is a result of placing blame for problems on the first politician—not ourselves.

If you took responsibility for your mistakes at work, you could learn from them, not make them again, instill a sense of trust in your superiors and the organization as a whole, which might lead to more responsibility, more money, and more fulfillment in your job.

Taking the easy route is always tempting. Why? It’s easy. But if something needs to get done and you know how to do it right, just do it right. The outcome will be closer to what you actually wanted in the first place. This is precisely why knowledge is power, why it’s better to know things even if you think ignorance might really be bliss.

Remember why you get up in the morning—to do stuff. And the only reason you can get away with doing stuff is because you’re a free-acting, autonomous individual. Make good choices, you probably already know how.

You Can't Change People

“I yam what I yam.”

We’re constantly in contact with people. We’re playing the chameleon day in and day out. Some do it well, some live in a swirling vortex of conflict, always wondering why everyone else is so stupid or dysfunctional when, well, maybe it’s not everyone else at all.

 It may seem somewhat trite to reduce all social life down to something like: “Accept others for who they are” or “You can’t change people.” But, really, what else can you do?

We’ve been talking about the mentalities for a few weeks now and I’ve been wrestling with a way to tell you readers, and myself, how you might go about dealing with them so that you can get the most benefit from your interactions. Well, I think I’ve struck on something that was so simple that it never occurred to me to consider it until now:

Do: understand them.

Don’t: try to change them.

Think about yourself. I probably don’t know you so I’m not going to try to tell you what your mentality is, but you know. Next, look around your life and try to determine what mentality those around you might be.

Here’s a hypothetical.

You get up, you go to work, you’re boss spends 8 hours a day making absolutely certain that you know he’s your boss and you’re the underling. You regularly wonder if he actually gets any work done amidst all the displays of dominance. This can be difficult, obviously. Your best option here is to realize that your boss is a power-centered person and there’s not a thing you can do to change that.

However, you can figure out, based on that information, what you can and can’t say to him, what you can and can’t do around him, and how he will react to certain things. If you want something from him, a day off or whatever, you’ve got to use his mentality to get it. I don’t know, offer to do him a great favor that happens to be quick and easy for you, but say that you need a day off to prepare. After all, truth is not an issue in his mentality and he doesn’t fully trust you anyway. Now who’s in the driver’s seat? While he’s off brow-beating employees, you’re the clever one.

Let’s say you’re sister is married to a man who owns a bakery. She’s dissatisfied because she never gets to spend time with him because he’s always at work. She comes to you for advice. What do you say: “You’ve got to talk to him, you know, sit down for a serious conversation and explain that his family is as important as his bakery and he needs to realize that and spend more time with you.”


Her husband is highly market-centered.That bakery is going to be a dominating force in his life whether or not you’re sister is around. If she wants to spend time with him, her best bet would be to start working at the bakery.

What about you? That’s always the big question, isn’t it? Whatever you are, that’s what you are. You can, and probably will, evolve in one or two ways throughout your life. But depending on your mentality, certain things will be better for you to spend your time doing than others.

Let’s say, for example, you’re really good at designing websites and you have a great idea for a website you know will make a lot of money—but you’re not at all market-centered. It probably won’t work out to try and turn yourself into a market-centered person, rather, it would be better to enroll a market-centered person to run the business side of things while you handle website design and IT stuff. Chances are, you would get bored and annoyed crunching numbers and making deals—and you might even be terrible at it. But you’re market-centered friend will get a thrill from negotiation and watching the numbers on their ledger get bigger and bigger.

The point it, you are what you are and everyone else is what they are. Together, we all create a unified whole of society that can, and we hope, will become one where everyone can benefit in their particular areas of interest and expertise, drawing from the strengths of different mentalities, and working together for their own personal benefit and the greater benefit of society.

Step one for you: a little self-evaluation.

Getting What You Want

This isn’t astrology people.

You’re not determined to be one thing or another for your entire life.

Everybody grows up. When you’re a child, probably until 6 or so, you’re family is the center of your universe. It’s all you know, it’s all-important. Then, of course, you go to school and learn that if you don’t behave yourself, you get smacked with a ruler or sent to the coat closet or whatever ineffective disciplinary measure schools take these days.

Yes kids, people will try to dominate you and affect your actions and behaviors. Reactions may vary.

In the dawn of your life, you’ve already been exposed to a kinship and power centered mentality.

Then we run into adolescence--hormones raging, emotions all aflutter. You realize you have some control over your reality and not everything seems as it should be. You go to college, learn a thing or two and you or those you encounter might take up some sort of crusade. Maybe you throw red paint on fur-wearing women as they exit the opera house or chain yourself to a tree so those evil woodsmen can’t cut it down. The cause centered mentality rears its head.

Then reality hits (not that everything else isn’t reality). The bills are coming in. The car needs fixed, the kids want a doll that wets itself, wife doesn’t like her clothes, and your boss goes on and on about profit margins. You’re surrounded by the market centered mentality.

A lot of people might stop here. It’s not surprising. The weight of economics can be overpowering, enough to keep a person engaged for the duration of their life.

Yet for many, the dust settles eventually and they look around and realize that they’re part of a larger system. You might wonder what’s being done with the taxes you pay or why your neighbors refuse to mow their lawn. You might think it necessary to mobilize a group of young men to help an elderly woman with home repairs or something of that nature. You have encountered the community centered mentality.

Being community centered might cause one to look at the opinions and commentary of those who (at least seem to) understand these larger social systems. You begin to comprehend the arguments of political analysts, you follow the news, you see the tension between ideologies, you realize the futility of moralizing to different cultures or trying to forcibly change people or societies. You have encountered the perspective mentality.

Finally, the baggage falls away and you realize what works and what doesn’t in the world. You operate more from a space of observing reality as it truly is rather than what you think it should be. You can predict the behaviors of people and groups. Less and less becomes surprising and the truth of the world around you seems to emerge. This is a reality centered mentality.

So why bother? What good does it do you to know this?

This serves to illustrate that you intrinsically know about these mentalities. You’ve probably personally identified or encountered all of them before. Think about your life; who that you know is kinship centered, power centered, cause centered, market centered, community centered, perspective or reality centered?

How do they act? What stimulates them? What gets them up and moving? What do they want from you? How would you best interact with them to not only get what you want, but to promote social harmony?

Understanding how people interact for benefit simply assists you in getting what you want. And people want different things. Market centered people want money, cause centered people want to be right. What are you? How about your co-workers and family?

It’s important to note that, though this post might seem to imply this, age is not an indicator of someone’s mentality. This isn’t Erikson’s stages of development. People can be kinship centered for their entire life and you don’t necessarily “evolve” from one to the next as you mature. Rather, mentalities seem to dominate a person’s surroundings as they grow and mature.