Yes, I continue to be obsessed with the Four Tendencies framework I created.
Recently, at a dinner party, I expounded on my theory to both dinner partners, separately (one Upholder, one Questioner). Am I becoming a bore?Perhaps.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can find out here whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.
Now I’m collecting movies, novels, and TV shows that illustrate the Four Tendencies. And I need your help. I have many examples, but I want more. Please send your suggestions — especially for Rebel. I’m surprised that I don’t have lots of fictional examples of Rebels, but so far, I don’t.
The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling — Hermione is a textbook Upholder. She constantly (and annoyingly) reminds Harry and Ron about the regulations and laws of the magical world, she never falls behind on her homework, and she becomes very anxious when anyone breaks a law or even a school rule. Nevertheless, when she becomes convinced that official expectations are unjust, she crusades against them, even in the face of others’ indifference or outright disapproval, as she did in her campaign to improve the poor treatment of house-elves. In her final year at Hogwarts, she quits school and opposes the Ministry of Magic in order to fight the evil Voldemort.
The Bridge on the River Kwai — The character of Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) is a magnificent portrait of an Upholder, with all the strengths and terrible weaknesses that accompany the Tendency.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer — A thoughtful reader wrote to me to say that she thought Buffy from the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an Upholder— but shockingly, I’ve never watched that show, so I don’t have a view myself. What do you think? Is Buffy an obvious Upholder?
Game of Thrones series — When Lord Stannis Baratheon and his men were besieged during war, they were saved when infamous smuggler Davos Seaworth brought supplies through the blockade. After the war, Stannis knighted Davos for his act—but he didn’t forgive Davos’s earlier crimes; he enforced the law by chopping off the tips of the fingers on the outlaw’s left hand. Later, when his older brother King Robert Baratheon dies, Stannis believes the crown should pass to him, as the next-oldest male in line. So he fights to assume his rightful place, and sacrifices everything he values along the way—even though he doesn’t even seem to want to be king. (I’m going by the TV show here; I haven’t read the books in a while.)
Parks and Recreation — Ron Swanson (Rick Offerman) is an outstanding example of a Questioner. He willingly upholds rules and expectations that he thinks makes sense—such as gun licensing laws—but ignores rules that seem unjustified—such as the building codes for his woodworking shop.
The X-Files — I haven’t watched the series in a long time, but I think I’m correct in remembering that Mulder and Scully are both Questioners, right?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte— Jane Eyre is a Questioner. In fact, on the very first page of the book, Jane’s hateful aunt Mrs. Reed literally calls her “Questioner” to explain why she finds Jane annoying: “Jane, I don’t like cavillers or questioners.” (I had to look up “caviller”; it means “one who quibbles.”)
It’s a Wonderful Life — George Bailey (James Stewart) is an Obliger who, at every juncture, meets outer expectations but not inner expectations. The movie shows both the risks and the rewards of the Obliger path. Note that when George finally drops into Obliger-rebellion, it’s aimed at himself, as so often happens with Obliger-rebellion. It makes me sad to reflect that most Obligers don’t have a Clarence to help them.
Before Midnight — Céline (Julie Delpy) expresses Obliger frustration and is shown progressing into full Obliger-rebellion.
27 Dresses — Obliger Jane (Katherine Heigl) satisfies everyone’s expectations, until her deceitful sister Tess pushes her too hard, and she rebels with a dramatic, destructive, ugly gesture (spoiler alert: it involves a wedding slide show). When her best friend Casey questions her actions, Jane defends herself, saying, “You’re the one who is always telling me to stand up for myself!” Casey answers, “Yeah. But that’s not what you did. What you did was unleash twenty years of repressed feelings in one night.” Yup. That’s Obliger-rebellion.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen — Lady Bertram is a thorough Rebel; she’s also a good example of how Rebels may appear proper and conventional — until closer consideration reveals that they do only what they want to do.
Do you have any examples to add? Do you disagree with any of my categorizations?
It’s funny to me that I, as an Upholder, have lots of examples of Upholders, and the fewest examples of the Rebel Tendency, which is the opposite of the Upholder Tendency. I’m sure there’s a lesson in that. So suggest more examples!
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
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