There are always memorable moments from our time in school. One of those, for me, was when we were first introduced to the mind-boggling (pun intended) anatomy of the human brain and its major constituent parts. Being aware of our discerning struggle to distinguish the cerebellum from the cerebrum, our teacher alluded to what he had thought was a hallmark of what happens to people if the frontal lobe was affected. He was our fifth-grade science teacher, ever lustrous, courteous and fatherly.

He asked if someone in the classroom had noticed a particular person near our school, which was around Mesqel Square. No one had but me. He was a short, bald and wiry man, who was used to relentlessly walking up and down the streets not far from our school.

Our teacher portrayed him as someone who is “off his rocker” and mentally unbalanced. Amidst the man’s muscular look, it was apparent he had seen better days. Encouraged by his appreciation of me in noticing the man, I asked if there are things we can do to prevent this mishap. He vehemently, with a stern scientist look, alleged that it is very difficult to correct if a person is “once touched” in the head.

However, out of empathy, a friend's father took the man in and helped him get medical help. He ended up being an employee in his maintenance workshop. Our teacher was wrong. No doubt, mental conditions that are biological do exist. Still, for the man on the streets, it was the poor luck of failing to find an environment that accommodates the diversity of behaviours and personalities, not an incurable brain dysfunction. It is an indictment of how certain scientific analysis fails to recognise the importance of empathy and why it is possible for people to adapt and grow.

There was a mother-daughter team in the 1920s that seemed to have ventured otherwise, Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, a pair of writers, who gave birth to their brainchild building on the writings of Carl Jung, a notable psychologist. Slowly but surely, with a “life of its own”, their work triumphed to being an important accessory in the study of psychology and organisational behaviour.

It is reported that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the most popular personality test in the world, is now applied in a range of institutions from Fortune 100 companies, universities, hospitals, and churches, to the military, with its concepts of extraversion versus introversion and thinking versus feeling reaching the mainstream.

This was reminisced with a discussion I had with a long time friend, to whom the Myers-Briggs test is synonymous with the style of management at the company that employed him. He took the test but to his detriment. He was deemed as not having what it takes to be promoted amidst the annual human capital optimisation assessments.

The criticism to Myers-Briggs is that the labelling of live human beings emerged as one technique for annihilating individuality – for treating people as interchangeable and sometimes disposable. This is true. Human beings are unique precisely because they are hard to “type cast” and can exhibit behaviours that are so diverse that some may assume some biological ill may have befallen them, like my fifth grade teacher did.

We need to develop empathy, which is not a mystical phenomenon but a natural, innate ability that we can strengthen and nurture, as the same holds true to the other arts or learnable skills. Therefore, it is high time that we start to learn them at school instead of flattening human behaviour into a static, predetermined set of traits. We are not robots, after all.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 26,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1139]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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