The expression of the Idealist temperament is related to a need for meaning and significance, a desire for authenticity, and a drive to seek the unique identity of all things. Those that strongly express this pattern of emotional response are empathic, cooperative and altruistic, and it is the driving pattern behind the humanities – especially literature, poetry and fine art – counselling, journalism, mysticism, and humanitarianism.
The Idealist temperament is related to Abstract language use, an Affiliative approach to taking action and a focus on Motive. We will begin by reviewing these three axis in the specific context of the Idealist temperament. Throughout this piece we shall be referencing the work of David Keirsey, marked [K], and his student Linda Berens, marked [B].
Abstract language use reflects an interest in the imaginative, rather than the tangible:
[People strongly expressing Idealist] are naturally inductive in their thought and speech, which is to say that they move quickly from part to whole, from a few particulars to sweeping generalisations, from the smallest sign of something to its entirety. With their focus on unseen potentials, on the not visible and the not yet, [they] show an extraordinary sensitivity to hints of things, mere suggestions, inklings, intimations, symbols.
[With a] zeal to connect disparate ideas [the communication of people expressing Idealist] is often laced with metaphors, ascribing features to people and things that belong to other people and things – animate or inanimate, visible or invisible. [K]
The use of language associated with the Idealist pattern can become so metaphorical as to seem to lack any specific content:
In the Idealist pattern, abstract language is often global and diffuse so people can make their own meanings and find their own identities. [B]
We encounter language in the style of the Idealist pattern most commonly in poetry and poetic lyrics. While many songs are quite explicit in their subject matter, some seem to imply rather than state, or contain such ambiguity that it is possible for different people to construct entirely different meanings from them. The lyrics of Bob Dylan and Tori Amos, or the poetry of Allen Ginsberg or Emily Dickenson are examples.
Abstract language is common to the Rational pattern as well as the Idealist pattern, but the use of language is quite distinct:
Beyond the vivid metaphor, [the language use associated with the Idealist pattern often displays a] charming habit of overstatement, quite the opposite of the [Rational pattern’s] penchant for understatement. Idealist expression is rich in hyperbole and exaggeration, and at the same time short on gradation. [People expressing Idealist in language] do not say they are “somewhat” interested in an idea, or dissatisfied “in some degree” with a person’s behaviour; they are “totally” fascinated or “completely” disgusted, “perfectly” delighted or “absolutely” appalled… While they tend to ignore degrees of gradation, [such people] are highly sensitive to the nuances of communication that qualify messages… [K]
The second aspect of the basic profile is a bias towards an Affiliative approach to taking actions:
For the Idealist pattern, Affiliative roles help us know who we are, our unique identity, and provide a way to find meaning and purpose in what we do. [B]
Cooperating with others is the goal in this approach:
Acting in concert with others for the good of the group – cooperation – is considerably more important to [people expressing Idealist] then the functional utility of their chosen tools and operations. In the [view of such people], people’s instruments and actions need to be acceptable to others, even if they prove less effective than some other disapproved instruments or actions… Indeed [they] can be quite suspicious of utilitarian actions which go after results too coldly or single-mindedly… [K]
The Guardian pattern shares this Affiliative focus, but is more focussed on compliance with the laws and rules than in cooperation, per se:
[Those people who express Idealist] would have a consensus on how [the assets of society] are to be used. This is a slightly different shade of cooperation than that which characterizes [people expressing Guardian], who are more interested in compliance than consensus. Thus, [people expressing Idealist] observe the many laws that govern our conduct… not simply because they are laws, but because they represent a common assent of their community, a unity of purpose or like-mindedness that [such people] hold dear. Accord, concurrence, agreement, accommodation: this side of cooperation is what looms large in the consciousness of [such people]. [K]
The third and final aspect of the basic Idealist profile is a focus on Motive:
In the Idealist temperament pattern, attention goes to others’ meaning and purpose of being. For [people expressing Idealist], motives represent a person’s spirit and higher purpose in life. Motives must be attended to because they provide opportunities to achieve consensus and work together towards a common goal and at the same time achieve a purpose. [B]
This is quite distinct from the Motive-focus associated with the Artisan pattern, which is concerned with what individuals get out of any given situation. The Idealist pattern is much more concerned with dissipating conflicts and promoting cooperation, as we shall see by examining the type of intelligence associated with this pattern.
2. The Diplomatic Intellect
According to Temperament Theory, each of the patterns is associated with a particularly kind of intelligence. The Idealist temperament is related to Diplomatic thinking:
Diplomacy is the ability to deal with people in a skilful, tactful manner… With their instinct for seeking common ground, with their ability to interpret each side’s communications in a positive way, with their gift for putting themselves in another’s place, and with their metaphorical language easily and fluidly turning one thing into another, [such people] are well-equipped for the difficult task of influencing people’s attitudes and actions, not only inspiring them to grow, but also settling differences among them, smoothing difficulties – ever looking to enlighten the people around them and to forge unity among them. [K]
When the Idealist pattern is directed inwards, that is, in the case of the introverted expression of Idealism, the expression of diplomacy becomes more indirect. Consider the extreme case of Emily Dickenson, who wrote almost two thousand poems during her lifetime but kept them locked in a drawer. In this introverted role, the person expressing Idealist often requires a lot of space from other people – the day to day conflicts of the world can be especially draining.
Keirsey speculates that a desire to avoid or eliminate conflict is the driving force behind the Diplomatic intellect:
Perhaps [people expressing Idealist] are given to diplomacy because they are so deeply disturbed by division and discrimination. Conflicts and controversies unsettle them, disputes and debates set them on edge, even the [Rational person’s] insistence on clear-cut definitions and discrete categories can seem antagonistic to them. [K]
The Diplomatic intellect is heavily focussed upon communication:
…with a Predisposition for the abstract, global and personal, [people expressing Idealist] tend to focus on human potential, ethics, quality of life, metaphysics, and personal growth. With such a focus, they often excel at communication, especially metaphor and imaginative narrative. [B]
This interest in communicating through metaphor and narrative relates the Diplomatic intellect to the role of the novelist and the playwright. William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw and Tennessee Williams are all considered to have expressed the Idealist temperament strongly, not to mention Charlotte and Emily Bronte, James Joyce, Herman Melville, J. D. Salinger, John Steinbeck, Leo Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf.
(Oddly, the horror genre is also linked to the Idealist temperament, although information in this regard is sketchy. Presumably this relates to horror-fantasy and its metaphor-laced symbolic narratives, in the style of Clive Barker or Neil Gaiman)
Berens summarises the skills of the Diplomatic intellect succinctly:
[People expressing Idealist] tend to be gifted at unifying diverse peoples and helping individuals realize their potential. They build bridges between people through empathy and clarification of deeper issues. They use themse same skills to help people work through difficulties. Thus, they can make excellent mediators, helping people and companies solve conflicts through mutual cooperation. [B]
In general terms, Diplomatic thinking can be understood as unifying through abstraction. Faced with conflicting viewpoints, the Diplomatic intellect can move to a level of abstraction in order to see how those disparate perspectives are alike, and then express that similarity symbolically, through words or metaphor. The core competence of those expressing the Idealist temperament lies in empathising and harmonising, which can be expressed in a verbal form, such as poetry or storytelling, or in an interpersonal form by building bridges between people, resolving disputes and conflicts, or helping people find their path own path through mentoring and counselling.
Examples of the expression of the Diplomatic intellect include creative careers such as those of the playwright, novelist, poet, musical composer or artist, and interpersonal careers such as counselling, psychology, social work and interpreting and translation. Those exceptional journalists who strive to communicate, and create the demand to resolve, the problems of the world are probably driven by expression of the Idealist temperament. Additionally, many religious roles such as minister, priest, imam and rabbi atttract people who express Idealist.
In the connection with art, the Idealist temperament overlaps with the Artisan temperament (most artists will express both temperaments to some degree); in the connection with psychology there is an overlap with the Rational temperament and in connection with religion, there is an overlap with the Guardian temperament. In this way, the Idealist temperament seems to bridge between the other patterns to some extent.
Those who express the Idealist temperament as their primary pattern generally display a strong desire to uncover hidden meanings in all aspects of their lives:
Wanting to uncover meaning and significance in the world, and trying to understand what they believe is the real nature of things, [the thought and speech of those expressing Idealist] tends to be interpretive, which means they frequently comment how one thing is really something else… [K]
The meanings being uncovered are not factual or theoretical, but rather impressions derived intuitively:
While [people expressing Rational] trust their reasoning powers, [people expressing Idealist] trust their intuitive powers, their feelings or first impressions about people, not needing to wait for a rationale, or even wanting one, for what they believe… Perhaps [such people] trust their intuition about people so unreservedly because of their extraordinary ability to identify with others, to put themselves in the other’s place. [K]
Thus the intuition of the person expressing the Idealist pattern leads to empathy:
[The self-esteem of a person expressing Idealist] is greatest when they see themselves and are seen by others as empathic in bonding with people in their circle. [Such people] feel a kind of natural sympathy for mankind, but they base their self-esteem on the empathy they feel with those people closest to them. [K]
As intuition leads to empathy, empathy leads to a kind of benevolence:
[People expressing Idealist] base their self-respect on their ability to maintain an attitude of benevolence or goodwill towards other people – toward all of existence for that matter. [Such people] are without question filled with good intentions and kind feelings; they have a fierce aversion to animosity of any sort, and they will suppress their feelings of enmity and hostility as best they can. Perhaps this is because [they] have a powerful and ever-present conscience which hurts them deeply whenever they harbour feelings of malice, cruelty, revenge, or other mean-spirited intentions. [K]
Keirsey perhaps overstates this aspect of the pattern, although a desire to avoid and dissipate conflicts seems to be intimately connected with this temperament:
A divisive, argumentative, competitive atmosphere offends them and brings out their desire to rescue any victims or leave the scene. [B]
Confidence for a person strongly expressing Idealist is drawn from a sense of the authentic:
[The self-confidence of someone expressing Idealist] rests on their authenticity, their genuineness as a person, or put another way, the self-image they present to the world allows for no façade, no mask, no pretence. To be authentic is to have integrity, inner unity, to ring true… [people expressing Idealist] insist on an ever higher standard of authenticity for themselves. [K]
This desire for the authentic also extends to other people:
They place a high value on authenticity and integrity in people, relationships and organisations. They engage in activities because they are meaningful, rather than because they are routine, mandatory, efficient or entertaining. [B]
Related to these previously identified motivations, someone who strongly expresses the Idealist pattern craves a unique sense of identity:
[People strongly expressing Idealist] devote much of their time to pursuing their own identity, their personal meaning, what they signify – their true Self. It is not, mind you, that they are self-centred, self-serving, or selfish; they focus on the Self of others as surely as on their own. But whether their own or another’s [such people] are centred on the Self, concentrated on it, committed to it… To [such people] Self has a capital “S” and is a special part of the person – a kind of personal essence or core of being, the vital seed of their nature, not unlike the Soul or Spirit of religious thought. [K]
Not that all people who express Idealist are religious, of course: it is simply that the language of spirituality lends itself to expression of this concept. Berens summarises these themes succinctly:
The [core needs of someone strongly expressing Idealist] are for the meaning and significance that come from having a sense of purpose and working toward some greater good. [Such people] need to have a sense of unique identity. They value unity, self-actualisation and authenticity. [They] prefer cooperative interactions with a focus on ethics and morality. They tend to trust their intuitions and impressions first… [B]
Thus the nature of the Idealist temperament is an ongoing quest for a unique and authentic sense of identity, and for meaning and significance. Unfortunately, this desire can be difficult or impossible to fulfil, especially in a world which is primarily dominated with the blunt commercial power that is driven by the Guardian pattern, and a harshly critical worldview driven by the Rational pattern. This can leave those who strongly express the Idealist pattern feeling alienated.
Everyone is stressed by different circumstances; one of the advantages of looking at behaviour in terms of the patterns of Temperament Theory is the capacity to identify different stressing factors that relate to the patterns.
According to Berens, those who express the Idealist temperament strongly are stressed by insincerity, betrayal or a lack of integrity:
[People expressing Idealist] are stressed by the impersonal and the impervious and can suffer sometimes excruciating alienation in situations where their needs for relationship, significance and esteem are not met. [B]
Berens view is that when people expressing Idealist becomes stressed by encountering the inauthentic, impersonal or dishonest, they react by disassociating, and hence begin playing roles that feel false to them – thus heightening the stress.
Keirsey also makes this observation:
[If people expressing Idealist] somehow undercut their authenticity by being phony or false or insincere, they can be taken over by fear and self-doubt… In extreme cases… this loss of self-confidence can become a truly debilitating fear of the losing of Self entirely… Few [such people] become this lost in inauthenticity, of course, but many live with some vague feelings of uncertainty about their genuineness, some secret doubt about their wholeness. [K]
Another problem associated with the Idealist pattern is the capacity to allow themselves to be deceived:
[People strongly expressing Idealist tend to be] credulous. They believe in things easily and without reserve – exactly the opposite of their sceptical cousins, [people who express Rational strongly]. [Those expressing Idealist] are really quite innocent in their credulism. They see good everywhere, and in everyone, as if believing that goodness is real and permanent in the world… [K]
In some respects, this credulity is harmless, but it is easy for someone expressing Idealist to be burned by it. For instance, when such a person encounters a sob-story, they will be inclined to help, thus leaving them vulnerable to those who would prey on such innocence. Still, most people who strongly express this pattern would rather take the risk of being conned than refuse to help a person in need.
Although not strictly a problem, the Idealist temperament seems to lend itself to a mystical outlook:
Unlike [people expressing Rational], who tend to rationalise their misfortunes and setbacks, seeing them as neutral events relative to one’s individual point-of-view, [those expressing Idealist] are more metaphysical in their explanations, and will usually take one of two enigmatic attitudes when trying to come to terms with life’s difficulties. Some [people who express Idealist] believe that accidents are mystifying and inexplicable – that bad things simply happen, and cannot be accounted for by any rational means…
Other [such people] attribute the cause of unhappy events to some power above themselves, not so much to the influence of bad Luck or Divine will (as do, respectively, [those who express Artisan and Guardian), but to more esoteric, mystical causes. [K]
This mysticism only becomes problematic in so much as it can often place them in conflict with other people – in particular, those who strongly express Rational and do not express Idealist cannot bear the apparently illogical justifications inherent in mysticism, and indeed often feel the need to verbally attack such views when they encounter them. Thus, the person expressing this mystical side of the Idealist temperament may attract conflict which, as mentioned before, can be intolerable to them.
A final, and more serious, problem associated with the Idealist pattern is that their quest for authenticity is effectively insurmountable:
The problem [for people expressing Idealist] is that this ardent wish to be genuine at all times and everywhere actually separates them from the authenticity they demand of themselves, and forces them, to a certain extent, into the very role-playing they want to avoid. [Such people] report over and over that they are subject to an inner voice which urges them to “be real, be authentic”… but with this inner voice in their head, [they] are inevitably caught in a dual role. Instead of the whole-hearted, authentic person they want to be, they are at once director and actor: they are on stage, and, at the same time, they are watching themselves being on stage, and prompting themselves with lines. The irony of this wanting to be authentically themselves is that it often leaves [such people] feeling divided and false, standing to one side and telling themselves to be themselves. [K]
Perhaps a part of what creates this dual role is the need to walk the line between authenticity and the desire for benevolence:
[Those who express Idealist] are caught in a dilemma: confident of their integrity, yet at the same time devoted to pleasing others, they must walk on a razor’s edge, with authenticity on one side, and moral approval on the other. Learning to reconcile these two often conflicting facets of their self-image is an important and sometimes arduous task for many [such people]. [K]
This can be especially difficult for someone who expresses Idealist but is drawn away from a desire to help others by different aspects of their personality (the cynicism of the Rational temperament, the desire for freedom of the Artisan temperament, or a highly introverted worldview, for instance). In such a state, the individual may find themselves deeply out of balance, but unable to identify the root of the problem.
Whatever the cause of stress, Berens suggests that those who express Idealist can alleviate the problem by receiving affirmation and nurturing from themselves or from others, or by finding new idealistic quests to pursue. Sadly, when seriously out of balance, it can be almost impossible for such a person to accept affirmation from any source, since they do not feel authentic and therefore suffer from a lack of self-worth. Trapped in this state, the person expressing Idealist can be driven to severe mental imbalance if they do not find a way out of the hole they have dug for themselves.
The Idealist temperament is defined as abstract affiliation with a focus on the motivations that allow people to be themselves. Those affected by it seek meaning and significance in all aspects of their lives, and strive for authenticity. The Diplomatic intellect associated with this pattern unifies through abstraction, and can use this to see how different perspectives are similar, as well as expressing this similarity in symbolic terms, such as metaphors. Empathy and cooperation are recurrent themes.
Stressed by conflict, insincerity and all things impersonal, the person expressing the Idealist temperament often finds themselves in extremely conflicted states as they try and balance their need for authenticity with their desire to be benevolent, or at least positive. Trapped between the demands of society and their own need for unique identity, those who express Idealist can ensnare themselves in a terrible emotional oubliette. Yet the Idealist temperament seems to express all that is good and valuable about humanity – fine art, poetry and literature, altruism and spirituality all seem to spring from this pattern of emotional response, which enriches both our lives and our cultures.