Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Enneagram Typing - Can It Slide Into Stereotyping?
The short answer is absolutely! Just because we know someone’s type doesn’t mean that they own and exhibit every characteristic of the type. They may not even relate to what might be considered major characteristics.
I remember one time some years ago attending a gathering of Enneagram aficionados. We didn’t know one another well, but we all shared our types. A group of 10 or so was over by the buffet table discussing intimate relationship when someone turned to me and said “Of course, you’re a Seven so you have a hard time making a commitment.”
Well, that’s simply not true for me. Maybe it was my childhood, maybe my Six Wing’s loyalty bias, maybe it’s my One-to-One subtype but for whatever reason, I actually commit deeply. I’ve been with my husband for 26 wonderful years. And it isn’t that I’m such a great or spiritual Seven, but that this just comes naturally to me. Commitment to work or a project: ditto.
Sure monkey mind, reframing, future-tripping,optimistic to a fault, pain averse - all these characteristics played a huge part in my personality. (Hopefully less so now.) But commitment difficulty; just not part of me. So it caught me off guard when I was so quickly and erroneously described vis a vis my Enneagram type. And when I attempted to correct the speaker, he smiled at me and said “Well, maybe you THINK you commit.”
Now I don’t think he meant any harm. Certainly I know that denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. And I will cop to all the annoying permutations of type that I have exhibited. But I felt dismissed. He didn’t want to know me - he thought he already did because he knew my type.
And I’ve heard countless similar stories from students. At work, a team tried to give a Four the responsibility for decorating an office because “Fours have great aesthetics.” She doesn’t. She likes beauty, especially in nature, but feels she has no color sense or ability in that particular area.
Or the One that was told that she must hold grudges because “All Ones do.” It wasn’t true for her. Although the rest of One, the inner critic, black and white thinking, even trapdoor activity she owned completely.
Or the woman who was lambasted by a coworker because she was an Eight and “could take it because Eights are tough.”
Stereotyping is hurtful. It hurts individuals and it hurts the Enneagram’s credibility. I have one friend who was stereotyped with the Enneagram by an ex and still shudders when he hears the word, Enneagram. He may never be open to it. And that is a shame.
The Enneagram is best used as an open inquiry; a common language to ask someone “What’s it like for you?” The minute we think we know someone because we know their type, the minute we name as it were, we stop ‘seeing’ them.
The Enneagram is only a starting place for our curiosity and delight in learning the inner terrain of another. It truly is like visiting another culture to visit another type, but then we must go deeper as we learn more about an individual who happens to live in that culture. And who may or may not follow all the customs in the guidebook.