Thursday, April 17, 2008
The Enneagram of Place
People are not the only demonstration of the nine types of the Enneagram. Countries and cultures have distinct personalities that overlay and occasionally even overshadow individual type. When we travel to another region, ideally we wish to be sensitive to the prevailing customs, mores, and worldview. Such an understanding allows us to honor the culture we are visiting. While the Enneagram in no way offers a comprehensive view of a particular place, its map provides us with a good first step to navigating our way skillfully within another culture.
Case in point:
I live on Moloka`i a small island in the Hawai`ian chain. On paper, this rural paradise`i is part of the United States. In reality and Enneagramically, it could not be farther from the prevailing culture and mindset of America.
The United States is a Three culture, through and through. Two of the most popular ad campaigns highlight our worldview: “Image is Everything” (Canon) and “Just Do It” (Nike). In the U.S., we strive, produce, and succeed. We set goals and work hard to get ahead. We are what we do and the image we present to the outside world. Even those of us who are not genuine Threes fall prey to the overlay of our culture. As a result, Americans work longer and have less leisure time than the majority of their contemporaries in other industrialized nations. We may be stressed out, but we sure can get things done.
Fifteen years ago, I immigrated to Moloka`i. I say “immigrated” because I might as well be an expatriate in a totally different country. I left a competitive Three world and found myself in a social Nine milieu. Hard work is certainly valued here, especially when it is in service to a group gathering. I’ve seen men and women labor long, prodigiously, and cooperatively to put on a lu`au or party. But the end goal is to “hang out” together and relax. Just being and enjoying life is of the highest value. No one tries to shine or outdo another. Calling attention to oneself or one’s accomplishments is frowned upon. (Which can be tough for Hawai`ian Threes, who naturally stand out from the crowd. Just as the U.S. Three culture does not highly value a Nine’s “being”, Hawai`i does not support a Three’s goal-oriented “doing”).
This contrast in styles was brought home to us in a most striking way one Christmas Day a few years back. We were invited to a Hawai`ian home for lunch, a typical gathering of a couple hundred people. Music was playing, kids were running around, and tables were loaded with food. We sat at picnic tables set up in the yard outside. After the requisite kissing and hugging (a ritual which can literally take 30 minutes to an hour) everyone filled their plates and we quietly sat together and ate. Few words are exchanged save murmurs of appreciation or offers of more food. After a couple of hours, we kissed and hugged everyone again, bidding Merry Christmas and aloha.
We were invited to another friend’s home for dinner. 12 people in all attended, most visiting from the mainland. When we arrived (still stuffed from our Hawai`ian lunch), we were greeted effusively by all our friends. “What have you been doing?” was the most frequent opening question. The energy was high and upbeat, information was being exchanged at lightspeed, laughter and chatter filled the air. After a fabulous meal and catching up on everyone’s busy lives, we took our leave. As we left, my husband remarked, “Americans are exhausting. I love our mainland friends, but they’re exhausting. Hawai`ians are relaxing.”
As we blend more into our adopted culture, we are much more aware of the “Three-ness” of the U.S. And we can’t help that we’ve become more Niney, adapting to the worldview that bathes and surrounds us. There’s no judgment here. Both cultures have much to offer, both have their strengths and weaknesses, as do we all. Still, making the “switch” requires keen observation, listening, and awareness so that we may honor the Enneagram overlay and worldview, wherever we are.
Note: I am a Seven and my husband is a Three. We joke that since moving to Moloka`i, he’s been more like a Nine and I’ve been more like a Five, as we adapt to our chosen homeland.