An ant caught the attention of my eight-year-old mind one day. I sat on the front steps outside my apartment and poked the ant with a stick.
Eventually, I had poked the ant enough that it became injured and unable to walk. I stared at it with fascination, watching it struggle. Another ant came, picked up the first ant, and carried it back to what I assumed was their ant home.
I was astonished and deeply moved.
Immediately I knew what had happened. The ant’s friend had come to rescue it, take it back home, and nurse it back to health.
It was then that I learned a valuable lesson: the inherent goodness in all living things. I also became ashamed of my cruel, pointless torturing of the ant.
I carried this insight of the inherent goodness of all things with me my entire life. After all, if Anne Frank said it, then it must be true. (“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”) This belief inﬂuenced who I would grow up to be, how I interacted with people, and how I viewed the world.
Then something horrible happened.
Years later, in my late teens, I was retelling the story to someone, waiting for them to be bowled over by the simplicity and beauty of its message. When I ﬁnished, my friend nodded, shrugged, and said, “You know that ant wasn’t helping the other ant. It ate him.”
As someone who identifies as an INFP personality type, one of my biggest strengths was coming under siege. INFPs are optimists and idealists. We strive to see the positive in everything, and we are excited by envisioning a bright, happy future, and how we can help humanity reach that utopia.
So when my friend, for lack of a better phrase, pissed all over my beautiful ant allegory, I was not a happy camper.
I was very idealistic when I was younger, almost to the point of being gullible. Ant cannibalism had never crossed my mind. My friend’s revelation was the ﬁrst of a series of eye-opening experiences that sought to take siege of my INFP’s idealism.
Over the next few years, idealistic thoughts on race relations gave way to more upsetting realities. As an African American who was very proud of his idealistic, optimistic attitude towards race relations, it was difﬁcult for me when I became disillusioned with the world and my role in it.
So how did I deal with my idealism being challenged?
A propensity towards emotional healing is another strong feature of INFPs. As an English teacher, I love working with kids. I am especially proud of the relationships I form with young African American boys from troubled backgrounds.
As an INFP, your particular strengths aren’t always acknowledged and rewarded in the work place. Nevertheless, I believe I have a strong capacity to feel empathy and help students navigate through difﬁcult emotions.
INFPs, whenever you feel like your idealism is under siege, take a deep breath and call upon your other INFP strength — healer — to help create the world you envision in your mind.
Volunteer at a local shelter. Donate to a charity. Mow the lawn of your elderly next-door neighbor. Or simply listen to a friend going through a tough time. You will be encouraged by the positive impact your actions have on others. Eventually, you will have a renewed sense of optimism and idealism.
Hopefully, through my teaching, I am on the path of rediscovering my eight-year-old self: the boy who thought that even an ant had enough compassion to lend a helping hand. Well, you know, an ant hand.
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow. Helen Keller, said to be an INFP
Image credit: Deviant Art
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