Sunday, April 27, 2008
Typing Our Pets
A mildly embarrassing little secret of the Enneagram enthusiasts I know is that we type our pets. Or more accurately, our pets display for us their Enneagram style.
“Oh come on,” you chide. “That’s taking anthropomorphism too far. Animals don’t have Enneagram types.” Certainly, we pet typers have tried to tell ourselves the same thing time and again. But that doesn’t change the fact that animals have distinct personalities that seem to mimic the nine Enneagram worldviews.
When I first typed my cat Muffin more than 15 years ago, I made a solemn vow to myself never to let anyone outside my immediate family know. That vow lasted until I happened to visit a fellow Enneagram teacher/consultant a few months later. She introduced me to her cat and warned me that her pet was a Four and likely to want my attention and admiration.
“Muffin’s a Six,” I blurted. “Hey, does everybody type their animals?” She blushed then, saying she didn’t know; that she didn’t share that information with many people. After that, it seemed that all the Enneagram teachers I knew typed their pets, but kept it under wraps. After all, who would take us (and more importantly, the Enneagram) seriously if we openly advocated typing our pets? So we kept silent.
The Enneagram is much more mainstream now than it was then. Time was when I’d get on a plane, someone would ask what I did and I’d say that I taught a personality system called the Enneagram. “Any uh what?” they’d invariably say.
Then five to ten years ago, I’d get responses like “I’ve heard of that” or “We had a training at my job in that.” Now, it’s more likely that I just say I’m an Enneagram consultant and my seatmate will volunteer his/her type and how they came to know it. My point is this. The Enneagram is well known and respected enough now that I can tell about typing our pets without endangering the reputation of this wonderful tool one darn bit. So I’m coming clean and telling our secret.
Muffin is no longer with us; old age having claimed him. We now have two cats: A Four named Princess and a phobic Six named Pomaika`i (Lucky in Hawaiian); just Po for short. Princess is beautiful, dramatic, moody, wants attention but on her own terms, alternates between intense affection and overt disdain (but always in view so she is noticed). She is extremely sensitive to our moods and very caring if we are sick or upset. She thinks we built the new addition just for her. My husband says that she has more emotions on her face (covered with fur, no less) thank most people he knows. We just love her.
Po is afraid of almost anything and anybody, except us. We found her starved, hypothermic, near death and nursed her back to health. She is sweet, and tries to charm whatever scares her. Failing that, she runs away and hides. She purrs if someone so much as looks at her. She stays out of Princess’s way. She panics if the dry food bowl isn’t piled high. We just leave the stale food and pile fresh on top for her to eat, or she gets very anxious and cries. She has two main expressions that we can decipher: I’m terrified and I love you. We love her, too.
Are we pet typers projecting? Are we assigning human feelings and traits to our beloved animals? Is this whole idea just completely silly? Possibly. But essentially, it doesn’t matter. If the process of typing causes us to pay attention to each being, human or animal, more carefully with an eye to honoring them and their view of the world, it can’t be trivial or a misuse. At any rate, the Enneagram is nothing more than a map. It is not the territory. Not for humans nor pets. It’s simply a starting place, a starting place for understanding. That’s some of the best work we can do.