Thursday, July 10, 2008
Viva la Difference - An Enneagram Guidebook
I just returned from a working vacation in France. As always, when I travel to an unfamiliar land, I tried to learn as much as I could to honor the culture I was visiting. That wasn’t too difficult in the case of France, since I am an avid Francophile. It’s a little harder when I travel to a place that I have little in common with or know little about.
Relating to another personality type is much like visiting another culture or country. The Points on the Enneagram are like Nine different countries, each with its own worldview, values, and belief systems. In order to communicate with or visit one of these “countries,” we need to learn a little about the language, customs, and cosmology. We must discover and enter the prevailing culture of each type. Only then can we begin to honor one another’s unique differences and celebrate our human diversity.
Suppose you are to visit Thailand. You’ve never been there and you’d like to experience the culture. You begin by obtaining and studying a detailed map: a guidebook. You learn a little about the geography and beauty of the land. You might learn a little of the language and some of the customs and taboos. You discover that you must never point your foot at a Thai person, or touch them on the head, as these gestures are considered rude and insulting in the extreme. As a visitor to the culture, you want to be sure to honor the Thai people.
Yet even if you were to read every Thailand guidebook in existence, you would still know only a very little bit about any individual Thai person. The rest of your experience of this unfamiliar culture would best be served by attentive exploration with an open heart and mind.
If we approach our interactions with others as a journey to a new culture, with much to offer and teach us, we truly find a path with heart. The Enneagram map acts as a travel guide to assist us in our exploration.
Let us start our guidebook with some generic “Travelers Hints” to prepare our minds and hearts for open exploration. These hints may help us to leave behind the cultural bias of our own Enneagram type long enough to truly appreciate another worldview. We’ve learned through work in self-development with the Inner Observer how to recognize and stand back from our automatic mode. This creates an “open space” in our internal landscape where learning and appreciating another culture can take place. Our first step is to let go of what we know.
“Travelers Hint # 1: There is no such thing as “Objective Reality”
Each of us is so used to living in our own culture, our own personality that we have come to believe this is reality. All nine worldviews are equally entrenched in believing they know the truth of objective reality. A Six “knows” that the world is an inherently dangerous place, and that vigilance and plans are your best chance of attaining security. A Nine “knows” that good things come to those who wait; most things work out for the best anyway, so why worry and rush around when it feels so much better to be peaceful. An Eight “knows” that only the strong survive in this jungle we call life and that the truth will out in a good fight. A Four “knows” that authenticity is only to be found in deep feeling and intense emotional connection. Reality is colored and created by our perceptual bias. In fact, we actually sort information to support our worldview, ignoring or filtering out contradictory evidence.
When solidly fixed in our own Enneagram point of view it can be difficult to remember that a person inhabiting another type has a separate but equal “objective reality.” For this reason, it is important that we continue to step back from our default mode, and question our own perspective. We attribute feelings and thoughts to our others based on the cues we observe from them. Yet these cues are nearly always filtered through our habitual personality or worldview. As we endeavor to communicate with and honor others, we can enlist their aid in corroborating or correcting the assumptions of our worldview. We can notice how often we are off the mark, and begin a process of inquiry to learn another’s “objective reality.” More Traveler’s Hints will be offered in the next blog entry. (material partially adapted from “The Everyday Enneagram” by Lynette Sheppard.)