Friday, July 18, 2008

Traveling To Other Cultures - Enneagram Style

Meeting another who inhabits an Enneagram type different from our own is indeed like traveling to another land or culture. Here are a few more hints to aid us in understanding and honoring one another.

Travelers Hint # 2: When in Rome, Do As the Romans Do

Honor the culture that you are visiting. Learn enough of the customs, language, and energetics of emotional intelligence for the land that you are visiting. This is easier than we initially think. Remember that we all had the potential of all nine types in us at the beginning, so shifting our worldview takes paying attention and being fully present. At some level, it is not a completely unknown territory. We can learn by immersing ourselves in another culture, another worldview. We will only be richer for it. Here’s an example:

My friend Bronwyn Cooke was on assignment for National Geographic photographing a group of women who live high in the Himalayan peaks in Hunza, Pakistan. Bronwyn spoke not a word of their language, nor did these women speak any English. Very little information was available about their culture, customs, etc. (That’s why the Geographic sent Bronwyn there.) Bronwyn wondered anxiously how she would communicate, much less take any photographs. Then she “forgot” what she knew and responded in the moment. She saw a woman come out of a hut, pour water into a bowl and begin to wash carefully. Bronwyn went over to the woman and gazed at her when the woman locked eyes with her and smiled. Quite naturally, Bronwyn simply began to bathe with her. They smiled and shared a common experience. When Bronwyn finally raised her camera as the woman was braiding her hair, she smiled her consent to the photographs. Through openness and a willingness to explore, following the lead of the cultural expert, Bronwyn had no trouble communicating and building a relationship.

Meeting someone where s/he lives involves letting go momentarily of what we “know” and exploring the world s/he inhabits. We can immerse ourselves in the culture of another by entering their worldview and experiencing it from within.

Travelers Hint # 3: Leave Your Own Country Behind

Travel lightly. Your own baggage will only cloud things, so leave as much of it behind as you can. If you do take your own history and worldview into a communication of cultures, do so from a learning perspective, as an invitation to open inquiry. “I see it like ... How is this for you?” “Is this a Three thing?” “A Nine thing?” “It looks like x is happening, is that true?” “What is your experience of this?” We can communicate even in another culture that we are very unfamiliar with by openness and presence, and leaving behind for a moment our Enneagram “country” or culture.
Cultural misunderstandings can occur from seemingly small gestures or communications, such as pointing your toes at a Thai person. It’s no different when different Enneagram cultures meet in relationship. Nowhere is this more important than in intimate relationship. It often seems that the little things are what may make or break a relationship. Misunderstanding can result from tiny details of everyday life, if we only view reality from our own perspective and miss the view from our intimate’s perspective. Scores of little misunderstandings result in cultural conflict and standoffs. We often act like the stereotypical “ugly American” visiting another culture, believing that repeating our viewpoint or speaking our language more loudly will make us understood. These little misunderstandings can expand into major difficulties in relationship. Our best bet is to drop our automatic reference point and open to that of our intimate’s. We can enlist our partner’s help in learning and seeing reality from their view, and a mutual expansion of “reality” can result. Let me illustrate with two “little things” from my relationship.

I am a Seven and my husband is an Three. It is important to him to present the right image, especially in his work, speaking to corporations. Often he will come to me bearing three wonderful ties, all of which match his current outfit. “Which one should I wear?” From my own viewpoint of Seven, they all look good, so it doesn’t matter. Yet, if I were to answer from this, it would completely dishonor his viewpoint. I try to see for a moment from the Three perspective - and tie selection seems critically important from that viewpoint.
He is having an image crisis, this tie selection is a survival issue. In order to truly honor him, I must realize this, take a deep breath, and really turn my complete attention to choosing one. And surprisingly, I find that it takes no more time to honor his viewpoint than to substantiate mine. (Notice that I turned my attention to choosing the tie - we are back to noticing and directing attention as we did in our self-development work.)

I on the other hand, am driven by fear. (Remember Sevens are the fear type who “forgot” they were afraid.) We were driving in a torrential downpour one late Florida night. My goal-directed spouse was passing all the obstacles on the highway, determined to reach our airport destination. The other cars were simply in the way. I succumbed to fear, seeing crumpled steel and our broken bodies in my imagination. Finally I could stand it no longer. “Could you slow down a little?” I asked shakily. Dewitt looked over at me and in a rapid shift of perspectives declared, “Oh my god, you’re scared, aren’t you?” I nodded as he took his foot off the gas and coasted in behind a truck in the slow lane. “It would never occur to me to be scared, I feel in complete control of the situation. Still it is never my intention to frighten you. I simply don’t operate from fear. I only want to get there. But hey, we aren’t really late, and it doesn’t matter that much to me.” Before knowing the Enneagram and the difference in our “cultures”, Dewitt felt that he might have just said “Oh that’s stupid. There’s nothing to be afraid of, I’m in complete control. Don’t worry.” and just kept passing the obstacles. It would have been the perfect set-up for a major blow-up - all from a tiny misunderstanding of worldviews.

Stay tuned for more traveler’s hints in the next blog entry.
(Material partially adapted from "The Everyday Enneagram" by Lynette Sheppard.)

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