Synergy in the Interior

John Muir
John Muir "at home"

My wife, Jane, and I have recently viewed the six deeply satisfying episodes of Ken Burns’ PBS series–The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. It is, in its essence, an elaborate treatment of John Muir’s warning, “Nothing dollarable is safe.” We recommend it—a truly spiritual experience, one that makes you want to take all your children and grandchildren and, well, everyone who means something to you, and head for primitive nature in the form of our national parks.

As students of the Five-Factor Model of personality, we are always on the lookout for interesting examples of personality traits in action. One of our oft-repeated statements about the dynamics of traits is that opposites need each other. Extraverted sales people need introverted production people. Creative advertisers need nuts-and-bolts market researchers. Assertive negotiators need reticent research staff. It is not so much that opposites attract as that they need each other. Yin and yang, if you please.

In a delightful segment of the television series, Burns introduces you to Stephen Mather (age 47 at the time) and Horace Albright (24 at the time). Mather was the boss of Albright in the Department of the Interior. Both knew John Muir and were passionate about preservation. Burns describes Mather as the idea person (what we call O+ in the Five-Factor Model), while Albright was the executor (what we call O-). Strategist and tactician. Here is a comment by George Hartzog, former Park Service Director:

               “Mather was a great conceptualizer and Horace was a great implementer. They complemented each other like father, like son. I mean, reverse side of the same coin.”

We are not self-sufficient—we need each other. It is hard to do it all ourselves. Let us learn and appreciate the unique differences we all bring to a task.

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