August 16, 2009
"There are four seasons of the year, four elements (earth, fire, water and air) and four basic temperaments present in human beings. Hippocrates identified them to better understand individual differences and how they affect the way people respond to healing treatments. It behooves educators and parents to know something about them in order to understand and meet the needs of our children. It also helps us in the lifelong endeavor of understanding ourselves and our relationships with others.
I will introduce you to the temperaments and suggest if you are interested in learning more, to look into Steiner books or the Anthroposophic Press for a selection of reading material on the topic. Waldorf teachers use this information to adapt their lessons for the children they teach as well as to enhance their understanding of the people they encounter. With the thumbnail sketch that I am providing, it could be possible to oversimplify the temperaments, when in reality, human beings are full of nuances. Let this picture be a beginning of your understanding, something to build on.
The four temperaments are: choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine. Of course, each temperament can be in balance or not and how we perceive them varies greatly depending on whether or not there is balance. Temperaments are not good or bad and with maturity and self-development, we strive to have some of each temperament to become whole. Children on the other hand, tend to exhibit strongly more of one temperament and so we can easily perceive their strengths and what needs to be strengthened or balanced. There is also a time in our lives when each of the temperaments is most strongly respresented; for example, childhood is a time of sanguinity and so even a child with a choleric temperament will have a strong sanguine component in childhood.
The choleric temperament is marked by passion and they can be great leaders or if inbalanced, dictators. The choleric temperament is represented by fire and the season of summer. Cholerics are action-oriented and like to get things done, applying a great deal of energy and heart to achieving, often looking for challenges. A child with a choleric temperament has a strong will and is usually quite active; they tend to be extroverted. Typically in a person's life, the time when choleric tendencies are most present is in youth.
If the choleric is associated with action and the summer, melancholics are associated with deep thinking, the earth and the season of autumn. They can be very compassionate and so great humanitarians if they do not get stuck in self-pity and over subjectivity. Melancholics have a rich inner life and are usually introverted. Young children who have a melancholic temperament tend to pay a lot of attention to physical and emotional hurts and can be brooding. They can also spend a lot of time playing quietly by themselves. Overall, humans tend to become more melancholic when they reach maturity, thinking things through more deeply and keeping an eye out for injustices.
When considering the phelgmatic, think about the season of winter and the element of water. The phlegmatic enjoys comfort and the child with a phlegmatic temperament is also happy to sit and play quietly and he/she loves to eat and sleep. They tend to be introverted and very perceptive. Routines are very important for the phelgmatic and they are usually even-tempered, although they can be very stubborn if pushed. The time of life that has is phlegmatic overall, is old age. Sometimes we meet young children that remind of of old people in young peoples' bodies; they usually have a phelgmatic temperament.
Finally, there is the sanguine temperament which is connected to the season of springtime and the element of air. Think of a butterfly flitting about from one flower to another and you will have a picture of the sanguine temperament. There is a tendency to be fun-loving,to let go of things easily and to like change and diversity. Although the sanguine person can be very caring, if imbalanced, they can be superficial.
Finally, to demonstrate the differences in the four temperaments (again, in an oversimplified way for the sake of education), let's consider how each temperament would face an obstacle, like a log in the middle of the path he/she is hiking along. The choleric would probably quickly remove the log, the phlegmatic would go around it, the melancholic would sit down on it and think about the best way to move it before doing anything and the sanguine would probably jump over it and then perhaps turn around and jump again, making a game of it.
We need all the temperaments for each brings something valuable to the whole world. The more we recognize our own temperament and learn to balance it, the more we can tolerate and appreciate the temperaments of others."