I, Committee

Essays Introduction

Decisions Using Intuition & Creativity


No Left-out People

As If

The Crystal Structure

On Leadership

The Myth of Success

Doers & Creators

I, Committee
What is a personality? It is a generalization and a description of the overt behaviour of a person. This behaviour is a consequence of the way the brain is wired. Little is known about brain-wiring, but since we are all humans, and experience both ourselves and the behaviour of those around us, we cannot help but observe that there are patterns of behaviour. A consistent set of patterns that we recognize as driving the actions of an individual becomes what we call, 'personality.'

Since we perceive a person to be a single body, we seem to assume that a single physical entity represents a single personality. I would argue that a better understanding of a person arises if neither assumption is held to be correct.

We speak of the personality as if we are truly describing the person; as if the personality is a real thing. Instead, I see the personality as a simile for the wiring and programming of the person.

It should be possible to broaden the representation of a person as a single entity. Although we are creatures contained by our skin, I have come to think of myself as more than the physical manifestation of 'Robert.' Robert, by himself, cannot exist without a functioning ecosystem. I must have air, water (plus some elements), and food.

The air must surround me, be fairly clean and circulating, be under pressure, provide a supply of oxygen, and be able to rid itself of the carbon dioxide, sweat, etc., that I release into it. Most of the air should be an inert gas. I require lots of air, or I will die.

Reading of the death-zone for climbers (over 26,000'), makes it clear that the film of air around the Earth is finite and is surprisingly small in volume.

Other than air, the only other substance that is provided directly by the Earth, that I can and must consume in large quantities, is water. In smaller amounts, I need some salt and a few minerals. Although I ingest these, I distinguish them from food because they are supplied directly from the Earth.

With the exception of the above, everything that I consume is - or was - living tissue. Something must live, then die, so that I might survive. This tissue, or product of tissue (e.g., sugar) I call food.

Take away my food, and I will die in a few weeks. Take away my water, and I will die in a few days. Take away my air, and I will die in a few moments.

When humans decide to leave the Earth, they must take all of this with them in quantities sufficient for each traveler, and with systems to reproduce the limited range of climate conditions that we require.

For these reasons, I picture the air, the minerals, my food and water - and the systems that sustain them, as part of me. This is one of the reasons that I consider the health of the environment as a personal matter.

Let me consider the being contained by my skin. It seems that as soon as multi-celled creatures appeared on Earth, the cells began to specialize. Among the cells in my body, there are no generalists. Each has a specific function. The kidney function does not happen all over the body, it occurs only in the kidney. Clearly I am made up of a committee of organs; each participating in providing a service contributing to the survival and quality of life of 'Robert.' (In the interest of completeness, I should include the zoo of organisms for whom I am a host - and most are beneficial to me.)

It was when I was lecturing at the Planetarium Dow (in 1967) that I became aware of the committee-of-me that operates as my personality. Once, when I was talking to the audience (Personality #1, the Orator) I was able to observe and remember my actions (by P#2, the Observer and Commentator). Along with the Orator, there was an internal Director (P#3) who was aware of where I was in the show - as I moved around the console, putting hands on controls, and operating switches and dimmers. It was the Director who was responsible for cueing the Librarian (P#4) to prepare the next bit of information for the Orator. (This really happened.)

While P#2 was considering this, someone handed me a note. At that point another part of me, (P#5) was able to borrow the eyes from time to time to read and interpret the note and provide the information to the Director (P#3) for action. I was functioning as a committee.

Once the concept of me-as-a-committee was established, I could see some of its operation within me.

When I consider all the jobs I have done over the years (53 years, as I write), I made a startling revelation. There were jobs where I worked so hard, everyday, that all I could do was sleep when I arrived home. And there have been more cerebral jobs that sometimes require long hours - but usually the hours were a pleasure because I was working toward something that I wanted to achieve. The former group included largely manual jobs (such as a paint chemist - standing at a lab bench all day, or running around the factory for supplies and paint samples). In the latter group are jobs requiring creativity, such as planetarium show production. One kind of work was hard, and paid poorly. The other was so rewarding that I would (almost) have done it for free - but paid much better. The conclusion that I draw from this is that I provide (and receive) more value when I am using my creativity.

This presents me with a problem. I do not access my creativity directly. It is almost as if this creativity is a group of personalities who operate behind a closed door of my mind. The 'me' that you see puts on a brave front, and behaves as if he is capable of creativity, but at best can only hope that the creative team will perform.

Here is what 'we' do to help the creative team. First, we ask what information it needs, then try to provide it. As and aside, it seems to be important to provide the information free of another author's context and world view. For instance, when doing research, I try not to read books from front to back. If there is an index, I will use that to seek out bits of data. I seem to sense when something is contributing to the vision that I am developing.

Enough sleep, and some mental space seems to be necessary for the process. No wonder that I value catnaps.

Finally, I need some pressure to perform. This usually means mulling over the situation and otherwise letting the creative group know that 'we' are expecting results! A deadline really cranks up the pressure.

I have learned that if I wake in the middle of the night, in a sweat, with my mind churning with the problem, not to fight it. Sure, I could do some stress-reduction exercises, or think of something else, and gratefully go back to sleep. Why do that when my whole being has decided to devote this much energy to the task? Instead, I go over what I know about the problem - again and again. Gently... letting the thoughts and fears and possibilities drift. Sometime I grasp some aspect of the pattern I have not seen before. If it is at all complex, the best thing to do is get up - while the clarity is still there - and write it out.

Sometimes the creative process is simple. Suddenly the door opens, and I am presented with a solution. This is well known to psychologists; it is called the 'aha' phenomenon.

Sometimes people will say that they are 'of two minds' about an issue. I find that I am almost always of two minds, or more, on most issues. I can, at the same time, be wild-eyed furious at someone, be loving and understanding, and see the actions of that person in terms of their typical behaviour. Or I can see equal benefits to several courses of action.

What is hard to predict is how the 'Robert' who is visible to the world will behave. In the case of a spur-of-the-moment reaction, it is the personality who happens to be closest to the microphone at that instant. So, I may say something in anger - but in retrospect I am not really angry; and I am then regretful about my response. I try not to make hasty decisions.

Deciding what I am going to do, then, often becomes a process of facilitating a consensus among all these personalities. The bigger the issue, and the greater the risk to 'Robert,' the harder it is to arrive at a decision. As an individual, and as a consultant, I am becoming more and more interested in learning good processes to make choices.

I know that there are others who have discovered (and enjoy) their multiple personalities. Some have even identified the characteristics of their players, and can describe how each contributes to the whole.

I suspect that many of the people whom I encounter have an internal committee that is more cohesive than my group; and can operate with less indecision. Often, I find that my variety of internal characters is useful in helping me to be sensitive to other people and their problems.

I would be interested to receive any comments you may wish to contribute. Please send me a note to essay@ballantyne.com.


Return to Essays Introduction
Return to Ballantyne & Associates

© 1996, Robert J. Ballantyne
All rights to this essay are reserved.
It is here only for your enjoyment
at your computer screen.