By Dorothea McArthur, PhD

In the work force, we seem to have four basic types of individuals. We can look at the descriptions of two types as representing two ends of a continuum. The first we shall call “Altruistic Work Personality.” These individuals appear dedicated to “making a difference.” They derive their ultimate satisfaction out of developing and using a natural talent or interest and doing something lasting that may contribute to the lives of other people or the environment. Secondarily, they desire a sustainable income. These individuals traditionally are most often seen in the arts, academic world, and service professions, and constitute much of our volunteer force. They view the world as an interdependent community and try to contribute what they can. They donate time and effort to worthy causes. They want their inner life to be rich, and are less concerned about external material possessions. If they acquire wealth, they tend to donate a major portion of it to others. These individuals are not easily drawn into conflict. They want to live peacefully and use their particular talent to provide a specific service. They are not attracted to large groups and often prefer to work alone or with a small groups of like-minded thinkers. They tend to be naïve about the potential for others to be greedy and rip them off.


The second work personality, we are calling “Materialistic Work Personality” This individual tends to be interested in collecting as much as they can. Perhaps it is wealth, stocks, promotions, land, cars, houses, antiques, degrees, trophies, or fame. Materialistic Work Personalities are highly motivated, and are excellent at creating large successful for profit businesses or corporations. They are able to use bureaucracy to their advantage, fast tracking to the top as a leader. They produce fantastic products that we all use and enjoy. They can really sell themselves well, and drive a hard bargain and close a deal. Conflict is often a positive challenge; competition attracts them. They have little concern for how others are affected while they are obtaining their goal. Ethics, and sharing are frequently compromised in the name of “doing business.” Their goal is almost always “to have a little more” of whatever they are collecting, often without the realization that to obtain this hurts other people and doesn’t make the Materialistic Work Personality happier.


Materialistic work personality sometimes gets carried away in reaching their goal, contributing to the imbalance or displacement of the line workers who serve them, their nation and/or the planet. Altruistic work personality takes too long to gets concerned and eventually steps in to try to “make a difference” by attempting to acknowledge the underdog and restore the balance of nature. These two work personalities then butt heads often competing and devaluing each other. Materialistic work personality tactics often wins because Altruistic work personality may feel intimidated and is unwilling to compromise their ethics while Materialistic work personality is much more comfortable with competing and winning at any cost. Materialistic work personality acquires enormous sums of money while Altruistic work personality struggles, too often, with the proceeds from grants, donations, contributions, fund raising, a bake or community rummage sale.


Both Altruistic and Materialistic work personality individuals are needed to maintain society, and each have advantages and disadvantages, strengths and vulnerabilities. How does a Altruistic and Materialistic work personality develop? How can we raise children to have the best qualities of these two work personalities, minimizing the vulnerabilities that might ultimately hurt society or the planet?


It is said that the tallest buildings run the culture. In the eighteenth century, it was the churches. In the nineteenth century, it was the universities. More recently it is the corporate world. Unfortunately, the philosophy of the Materialistic personality predominates telling us all that it is somehow all right to put out addictive or defective products, treat corporate workers with blatant disregard, earn absurdly large bonuses and golden parachutes, and intimidate each other with lawsuits and buyouts solely for the purpose of increasing profits. The movie, Insider, is a testament to the degree that such a philosophy can be carried out. When we behave this way, what kind of message do we give to our children? How can we expect them to be considerate, ethical and caring in the face of such blatant hurt. My 83-year-old mother said to me in a recent visit, “The trouble with your generation is that you have never really been up against as we were with the depression and World War II.” I answered, “I think that we are really up against it now with Corporate America. Our disregard for each other is worse than a depression or a war because it is harder to target, to deal with. It may not be temporary. We don’t seem to know how to conquer it.” She responded sadly, “Perhaps you are right.”


There are two other kinds of workers. The third kind is the person who says, “ I want to make this amount of money in my paycheck. I don’t care what kind of job I do as long as I reliably get the money. Life for me begins after work. These kinds of workers frequently do a somewhat repetitive job cheerfully and responsibly. After work, they do what they want with their time with sports, hobbies, and parties.


The fourth kind of worker is an artist. They want time to be creative with whatever form of art they practice. They are persistent in their creative endeavors, although they sometimes have to fight discouragement and frustration in gaining acceptance for their work. They need four hours a day to do their creative work. In the remaining time, they may also choose to have a more routine job that pays the food and rent and keeps them out in the world where they can interact with others for the purpose of generating further creativity.


Artists have to work with Materialistic Work Personality in Hollywood’s entertainment industry when their styles of functioning and overall goals are so very different.


Which kind are you? Are you presently the kind that you want to be? If you are not, go directly to the essay entitled Life’s Two Most Important Questions for further help. How are you interacting with the other kinds of workers?


From Defining Moments, Breaking Through Tough Times, by Dorothea S McArthur PhD ABPP