Friday, May 23, 2008

Sharing the Enneagram: Enthusiasm vs Evangelism

Many of us are so excited and enthused about the Enneagram when we first learn it that we can hardly wait to share it with family, friends, acquaintances, even random passersby. We just KNOW it will change everyone’s life for the better and contribute to personal self actualization and more harmonious relationships and become a stepping stone to world peace AND, AND, AND! And we are genuinely stunned when the recipients of our excitement are underwhelmed.

This lukewarm response may become downright antipathy if we should be so bold as to share our initial observations about another’s type with them. Yea, though we have been cautioned again and again that the inner landscape of someone’s type is just that: INNER; and we can’t type them from the outside, our enthusiasm has a tendency to get out of control. Small wonder that none of our intimates wants to hear the word Enneagram EVER AGAIN.

The Enneagram is a map of self-discovery. And okay, it is a map of other discovery too, inasmuch as we find there are eight perfectly clear worldviews in addition to our own. Learning the other Enneagram personality types helps us in our response and honoring of others. It also helps us not to take everything so very personally.

However, the self-discovery aspect of the Enneagram gets circumvented or worse, sabotaged, if we share too much too soon. Especially since we are just as likely to be wrong as right in determining someone else’s type. My teacher, Helen Palmer, was fond of saying that if she were to “guess” someone’s type, she’d be wrong at least 50% of the time. And Helen is a practicing intuitive !

I guarantee you that no one wants to be told they are a “One” or such a “Two”. Although you may be sharing what you’ve divined about them from the purest of motives, it FEELS demeaning and confining to be told by another who you are. I still meet people who tell me horror stories about those who bludgeoned them with their type, who NEVER want to hear the word Enneagram again.

Okay, great. How then DO we share the Enneagram? How do we communicate our enthusiasm without becoming the most annoying of evangelists? Well, I would have to say: gently. Let’s examine what we really do KNOW that we can share. We know our own type. We know how much the Enneagram has helped us. We know that left to their own devices, people prefer to discover their inner landscapes. We know that the Enneagram is compelling, rich, and life-changing.

With this in mind, we can share the Enneagram most productively. I tell my students and clients to give their friends and loved ones a book on the Enneagram suitable for beginners. When they give the book, they may say “This map taught me so much about myself. I’m a Type _______ on the Enneagram. This may help you in understanding me more and make it easier to deal with me.” Enough said.

Right after they read about you, they will be devouring the pages looking for their own type. Let them discover it and tell you who they are. (They may surprise you.) Regardless, this may be the beginning of an illuminating conversation about internal worldviews. Equally important, you will now share a common language in which to discuss feelings, thoughts, similarities and differences. And when their enthusiasm for the Enneagram threatens to accelerate into evangelism? Show them this kinder, gentler way to share our favorite personality map.

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