It's a shameful thing to be an introvert. People hector you. Get out more! Network! Socialize! Similarly, it crosses an invisible line for a woman to be aggressive. It's okay for a man to leap up and trounce a challenge - in fact, it's laudable. But the same action makes a woman a bitch. Likewise, men shouldn't be soft and caring. It marks them as weak. Maybe even gay. Everyone should be a go-getter, putting in the all the hours it takes to climb to the top of their profession, get rich, get famous, and live in a place with a stainless steel kitchen in the best part of town. Women are too emotional. Men are emotionally closed off. Women are ballbusters. Men are wimps. Anyone with more than x number of sexual partners is a slut. You're too sensitive. You're too square. You worry too much. You think too much. You need to settle down and grow up, you big baby!
In a thousand ways, our culture directs us to be this and not that. Signals come in all forms, from all directions. And implicit in these edicts is the belief that our personalities are bendable as pipecleaner, that we can choose to be someone radically different from who we're inclined to be and mould ourselves into that new shape by sheer force of will.
But what if that's not true?
The Enneagram is a system that postulates the existence of nine basic personality types in the human race. That's right, seven billion people on the planet, nine basic personalities. Which isn't to say that everybody of a type is identical - there's massive variation within a type. But everyone of a type has certain fundamental inner processes in common.
Beams' Br. Juma introduced me to this notion five years ago, using Riso and Hudson's book The Wisdom of the Enneagram. I was extremely skeptical, priding myself on my individuality, and associating anything of this kind with newspaper horoscopes. But trusting Juma's judgment I swallowed my misgivings and did the short test in the book's opening pages. I flipped to the chapter corresponding to my supposed type, and, inner defences still up, read a list of first person statements that described that type's inner life. After the first four, I turned to Juma and said "I... I'm pretty sure I'm this type." I've been reading and talking about the Enneagram ever since.
My type, it turns out, is Four - the Individualist, who believes that no one understands them and no one ever could. Fours are hypersensitive. They define themselves as unique. They don't like to be told they're just like everybody else. Don't take away what makes me special! A part of me reared up with these exact protests reading my profile, and yet the book described my inner landscape in such vivid and complete detail - putting things into words I'd barely articulated to myself - that I knew it had something to teach me. Listen, said another part of me. Finally, here's that thing you've craved all your life: someone who understands you.
Reading about my type, I realized I was allowed to be the things my culture had always discouraged me from being: solitary, sensitive, shy, inclined to create by myself instead of playing with others. Fours, it turns out, channel their feelings into works of art as unique as they are (ie. Joni Mitchell, Tennessee Williams)(see the end notes for some Four-ish quotes from them). They thrive by crafting their emotional lives into something personal and expressive. God-dammit, what a revelation! It's okay to be who I am?! I can imagine a similar sense of relief from an aggressive, problem tackling woman who finds out she's a type Eight - the Challenger (who feels most alive in the throes of intense experience)(Bette Davis, Sean Penn) or a guy who types as a Two - the Helper (caring and nurturing, with an instinct for finding what others need and giving it to them)(Bill Cosby, Dolly Parton)(quotes in the end notes from all these people, y'all). There's a tremendous relief that comes when you unbend yourself from a lifetime's habit of trying to be someone you're not.
Mind you, there's an inherent danger with this: you might identify so strongly with your type's characteristics that you use them as an excuse for all of your negative traits. "Of course I never finish what I start - I'm a Seven! (the Enthusiast, who craves variety and excitement and always looks forward to the next thing on the horizon)(Goldie Hawn, Steve Irwin)" "Of course I second guess myself so much that I never actually do anything, I'm a Six! (the Loyalist, who compulsively thinks of everything that might go wrong)(Ellen Degeneres, George Carlin)" But seeing your bad habits laid out in black and white by someone who's never heard of you is an opportunity to stop identifying with them. You can see your automatic reactions as "default settings," which can be risen above. You start to catch yourself when those instincts lead you toward the same unsatisfying corner you always seem to find yourself in. And you can learn to dialogue with those habitual reactions, choosing whether or not to let them stay in the driver's seat in every situation.
Another important point about the Enneagram is that no type is inherently good or bad. Roger Ebert once said he considers anyone who says they don't like to go movies about any specific subject (cowboys, or boxers, for instance) an idiot. "'I don't want to go to bad films about cowboys, I don't want to go to bad films about boxers, I would like to see a good film about a boxer' might be a more intelligent statement," he said. Very similarly, there are healthy and unhealthy versions of all nine types. The Wisdom of the Enneagram includes a detailed chart for each type, showing what a person looks like at every level of personal development, from saintly to suicidal. This can be an invigorating thing to read. There's where I used to be. There's where I am. And there's where I could get to... This is especially relevant in the postmodern world, where most of us have abandoned religion's dictates of pleasing an omniscient deity for a posthumous reward. Self-improvement is left to life coaches and motivational speakers, who cheerlead us toward personal, material and career gain. And that sort of thing works exceptionally well for some (Type Three, for instance - the Achiever - who knows they're the best and dedicates themselves to rising to the top)(Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins). But what about the rest of us? Anyone of any type can evolve into a better version of themselves, enacting their type's tendencies consciously and for the greater good, rather than out of automatic egoic compulsion. And the world needs healthy versions of all nine types.
And this brings up another point: we benefit from a multiplicity of perspectives in the world. Some people vehemently refuse to accept injustice and dedicate their lives to making the world right (Type One, the Reformer)(Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader). Others have a knack for finding common ground and bringing people together (Type Nine, the Peacemaker)(The Dalai Lama, Audrey Hepburn). Others still sequester themselves and delve deeper and deeper into their obscure interests, eventually emerging with ideas that no one has ever conceived of (Type Five, the Investigator)(Bill Gates, Agatha Christie). Dominance by any single point of view brings about an unhealthy monochromatic imbalance. Furthermore, no type is complete in and of itself. Part of the Enneagram theory is that when someone is secure, they manifest the positive characteristics of another type. Fives (Investigators) get out of their heads, becoming physical and decisive, like Eights (Challengers). Nines (Peacemakers), get past their sense of being "nobody special" and assert themselves, doing great things, like Threes (Achievers). And Fours get over their self-pity and navel gazing, gaining discipline and dedicating themselves to something bigger, like healthy Ones (Reformers).
I can honestly see the Enneagram being used to foster world peace, but that's a long way off. The vast majority of the people I've described it to (and I discussed it extensively in my most recent one man show) hadn't heard of it. But the first step toward any grand improvement of the human condition is to know ourselves better and grow in our empathy and understanding. Fulfilled people express their greatest potential in every aspect of their lives, shining as examples to everyone they encounter. As Joseph Campbell said in The Power of Myth "The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there's no doubt about it... People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who's on top, and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid world if it's alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself."
Knowing about one's Enneagram type, and the other types, impresses a person with the fact that their perspective isn't universal, nor should it be. We all have the potential to offer something vital to the world, and to awaken aspects of human experience in ourselves that are foreign to us most of the time. In an Enneagram workshop I took, the instructor led the group through exercises to help us relate to every type. We all have moments where we feel idealistic, or caring, or alienated, anxious, passive, enthusiastic, aggressive, achieving, or observant. And there are situations where an approach different from our own is exactly what's needed. A highly evolved person can manifest the characteristics of any type at all, dipping into those abilities in order to deal with a scenario appropriately and effectively, and by choice. And not because our culture has hectored us out of being who we are. And not because we feel ashamed of our natural inclinations. But because we've come to know ourselves, to face our compulsions and assumptions, and we've taken on the frightening, enlivening and ultimately liberating challenge of transcending them.
End note: Here are some quotes from the famous people mentioned as examples of nine types (great thanks to Lindsay Robertson and Jill Cherewyk for helping with the research on this section). Obviously, I've never met any of these people, so I can't really know that they're the types I'm claiming they are. I've researched them enough (these quotes are taken from files I've got on each of them) to believe they quite probably are these types, but I could be wrong. I don't know what's really going on in any of their heads. So the proper emphasis in the section below should be on the quotes themselves, not on the people who said them. A person saying something Four-ish doesn't necessarily mean they're a Four. But I do stand behind these quotes in and of themselves as particularly good examples of each type's view of life.
Type One - the Reformer - Ones dedicate themselves to something bigger than themselves, they live to make the world better.
"We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society"
"The challenges of change are always hard. It is important that we begin to unpack those challenges that confront this nation and realize that we each have a role that requires us to change and become more responsible for shaping our own future."
“Ultimately of course, parents must take responsibility for their children's health, ... Our message must be: What you don't know about your children's health insurance options can hurt them. It's up to you to find out if your child is eligible for this health insurance.”
“To me, my compass was the people on the highway. I was working in effect as a trustee for people on the highway. So, associates, friendships, sentiment, are secondary to pushing life saving standards into law".
"The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun."
"There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship."
Type Two - The Helper - Twos have a loving, caring, nurturing approach. They want you to love them, and they want you to know how much they care about you.
"Parenting needs to come to the forefront. If you need help and you don't know how to parent, we want to be able to reach out and touch"
"Nothing I've ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children."
"Even though your kids will consistently do the exact opposite of what you're telling them to do, you have to keep loving them just as much."
"I've always been a freak and different, oddball even in my childhood and my own family, so I can relate to people who are struggling and trying to find their true identity. I do not sit in the seat of judgment. ... I love people for who they are. We're all God's children."
"I have loved performing since I was big enough to wrestle my little brothers and sisters into sitting long enough for me to sing them my latest musical masterpiece. I just hope y'all will come out and see this little girl from the hills of Tennessee walk out there on that big ole stage and make her dreams come true, don't make me wrestle you too 'cause I will if I have to!"
"I always love working with children. I never had children of my own. God has His purposes. God didn't let me have children so everybody's children could be mine. That's kind of how I'm looking at it."
Type Three - the Achiever - Threes are image oriented and success oriented. They know they're the best, and they go right to the top.
"There is no such thing as failure. There are only results."
"The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment."
"One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular."
"I always knew I was destined for greatness."
"When I look into the future, it's so bright it burns my eyes."
"In the fourth grade was when I first, I think, began to believe in myself. For the first time I believed I could do almost anything. I felt I was the queen bee. I felt I could control the world. I was going to be a missionary. I was going to Costa Rica. I used to collect money on the playground to take to church on Sundays from all the other kids. At the time, in school we had devotions, and I would sit and I would listen to everything the preacher said on Sunday and go back to school on Monday morning and beg Mrs. Duncan to please let me do devotions, just sort of repeat the sermon. So, in the fourth grade, I was called "preacher." The kids used to poke fun at me all the time. It didn't bother me because I was so inspired at the time."
Type Four - the Individualist - Fours craft their experiences into art that's as unique as they are. They often focus on feelings of sadness and alienation.
"People used to say nobody can sing my songs but me - they're too personal,"
"Sorrow is so easy to express and yet so hard to tell."
"I take photographs, and that's a journal - it's what I see in a given period of time. It's a document of where my eyes have come to rest. My songs to a certain degree contain a document of incidents that happened. Sometimes it takes many years to write about them - they're not necessarily chronological."
"Don't look forward to the day you stop suffering, because when it comes you'll know you're dead."
"When I stop working the rest of the day is posthumous. I'm only really alive when I'm writing."
"I think no more than a week after I started writing I ran into the first block. It's hard to describe it in a way that will be understandable to anyone who is not a neurotic. I will try. All my life I have been haunted by the obsession that to desire a thing or to love a thing intensely is to place yourself in a vulnerable position, to be a possible, if not a probable, loser of what you most want. Let's leave it like that. That block has always been there and always will be, and my chance of getting, or achieving, anything that I long for will always be gravely reduced by the interminable existence of that block."
Type Five - the Investigator - Fives are perceptive, cerebral and secretive. They crave privacy so that they can delve as deep as they'd like for as long as they'd like into an interest the rest of the world might not care about at all.
"I like my job because it involves learning. I like being around smart people who are trying to figure out new things. I like the fact that if people really try they can figure out how to invent things that actually have an impact."
"People always fear change. People feared electricity when it was invented, didn't they? People feared coal, they feared gas-powered engines... There will always be ignorance, and ignorance leads to fear. But with time, people will come to accept their silicon masters."
In a May 2006 interview, Gates commented that he wished that he were not the richest man in the world because
he disliked the attention it brought.
"Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory---let the theory go."
"The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it."
"The human mind prefers to be spoon-fed with the thoughts of others, but deprived of such nourishment it will, reluctantly, begin to think for itself - and such thinking, remember, is original thinking and may have valuable results."
Type Six - the Loyalist - Sixes are anxious and suspicious. Their minds are always thinking about all the things that might go wrong. They're attracted to authority and distrustful of it at the same time.
"I'd like to be more patient! I just want everything now. I've tried to meditate, but it's really hard for me to stay still. I'd like to try to force myself to do it, because everybody says how wonderful meditation is for you, but I can't shut my mind up."
"Hosting the Emmys is a challenge for me. I guess it's the equivalent of someone who needs to climb a mountain or jump out of a plane. It's that kind of thing, where this could go terribly wrong. And I love the feeling of when it goes right."
"I think I let go of the need for approval, ... It certainly feels good when you get it, but I used to be more desperate for it. Once I felt better inside about myself ... I could do everything based on how I want to do things."
"Do I value a flag? No, of course not. Do I value words on a piece of paper? Depends on whose words they are. Do I believe in family values? Depends on whose family - most are pretty toxic and that plural already has me suspicious. So I have a few holdings concerning potential behaviour that an outsider could define as values. It's received beliefs, received wisdom, received values I have trouble with."
"However much kinship I had with the counterculture, it brought up again the eternal dilmma: of longing to belong but not liking to belong - even though the group I wanted to belong to now were non-belongers. Maybe it wasn't belonging that I longed for so much as being able to fulfill my proper role."
"In the summer of 1972, I played Carnegie Hall. It not only meant validation but arrival at a certain level. You may not really be on the same level as others who played there before you, but you now have something in common with them. Lenny [Bruce] worked Carnegie Hall. Stokowski worked Carnegie Hall. I worked Carnegie Hall. Fabulous. And it was an acknowledgment that I did accept certain kinds of authoritative wisdom: for example, that Carnegie was a prestigious place to appear."
Type Seven - the Enthusiast - Sevens are always looking for the next thrill. They love adventure, variety and new experiences. They live for the moment, they're often scattered, but they sure know how to have fun.
"All I ever wanted to be was happy."
"Youthfulness is connected to the ability to see things new for the first time. So if your eyes still look at life with wonder, then you will seem young, even though you may not be chronologically young. So curiosity, I think, is a really important aspect of staying young or youthful."
"So maybe that's what the difference is, is that when you intend to be happy, then you figure out ways to sustain your happiness or your ability to feel moments of joy in your life."
"I believe that education is all about being excited about something. Seeing passion and enthusiasm helps push an educational message."
"My belief is that what comes across on the television is a capture of my enthusiasm and my passion for wildlife."
"I'm very embarrassing to look at. You know why? Here's why I'm embarrassing: 'cause there's a little bit of me in everybody....I'm like the boy that never grew up. I'm very, very passionate about what I do. I mean, I love what I do....and people are like, 'God, give this guy a valium or something, you know? Can't he have a bad day?'"
Type Eight - the Challenger - Eights are tough, aggressive and confrontational. They love intense experiences. When a challenge rears its head, they react immediately, charging right towards it.
"Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should all be bigger than life."
"I survived because I was tougher than anybody else."
"My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose."
"On any movie I'm involved with, I say what I think."
"I don't like any directors. I don't get along with any of them. Mostly I think they're a bunch of whiny people without any point of view. So I don't want to be around them at six o'clock in the morning with make-up and bells on. And I'm probably the same way for the actors on my set - but that's their problem."
"I had a house burn down once, and everything in life burned, except my family, and it was so liberating. I didn't have a bad moment about it. It sort of reinvigorated my interest in a lot of things. I wonder if there should be some kind of anarchy."
Type Nine - the Peacemaker - Nines are easygoing, agreeable and optimistic. They can find common ground with almost anyone. They think of themselves as nobody special.
"All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion recognize the importance of these human values in making their life happier."
"One thing that I remember enjoying particularly as a very young boy was going into the chicken coop to collect the eggs with my mother and then staying behind. I liked to sit in the hens' nest and make clucking noises."
"All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives."
"I never think of myself as an icon. What is in other people's minds is not in my mind. I just do my thing."
"Pick the day. Enjoy it - to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come... The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present - and I don't want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future."
"If my world were to cave in tomorrow, I would look back on all the pleasures, excitements and worthwhilenesses I have been lucky enough to have had. Not the sadness, not my miscarriages or my father leaving home, but the joy of everything else. It will have been enough."