In Jung’s last work on the theory of psychological types, published posthumously, he introduced the topic by writing:
“A sane and normal society is one in which people habitually disagree” (Jung 1964, p. 46).
Jung didn’t say (here) why individual disagreements are important to society, but the reasons are evident from many of his writings from 1914 onwards, when he started formulating his theories about “the process of becoming” (Jung 1914, p. 183).
Constructive disagreement is a vital part of Jung’s process of individual and cultural development and it reduces conflict in societal or international relations. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is a natural corollary of Jung’s theories of individuation and collective compensation. I’ll start by explaining these aspects of Jung’s theories, and then conclude with some practical guidelines on what it means to disagree constructively.
Myers Briggs theory is very popular. Millions of people every year discover their personality type, using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® or one of a wide range of alternative questionnaires. Often the argument goes that, if you can discover your preferences, you can play to your strengths and develop your individuality.
However, the creator of the theory (C.G. Jung) argued that knowing or using your preferences can lead you in one of two directions – one being cultured, the other barbaric. His view receives support from a perhaps surprising source – the Buddha.
Your personality type can change the meaning of the words you use. This can potentially lead to confusion, misunderstanding, or conflict.
For example, people who prefer Thinking tend to use the word “sorry” to mean they have made a mistake. Those who prefer Feeling tend to use it to show sympathy or empathy. This can lead to misunderstanding because:
When a Feeler says “I’m sorry”, the Thinker can misconstrue this as being an admission of an error.
When a Thinker fails to say “I’m sorry”, the Feeler can misconstrue this as lacking care or concern.
In some cases, the argument that ensues can end up in the law courts. For example, if a doctor apologises for the bad outcome of an operation, a patient might mistake this for an admission of liability. (Using an apology as evidence of liability has been outlawed by some US states.)
One of the reasons that Carl Gustav Jung developed his theory of Psychological Types was that he had fallen out with Sigmund Freud. He wanted to understand what had caused the conflict between two people who, on the face of it, had very similar interests.