Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is Simon Cowell An Eight? Typing Famous People

I read recently that Simon Cowell on American Idol is an Eight. Because he’s blunt and brutally honest. While that indeed is a characteristic attributed to Eights, any of us can exhibit that same trait given the right set of circumstances. I acted that way myself when I was head nurse in an Intensive Care Unit. And I’m a Seven with a Six wing.

My own best guess about Simon Cowell is that he is a Four. (I have my reasons but they don't matter.) When confronted by the host of the show, Ryan Seacrest, a few weeks ago, Simon shrunk back from the conflict, muttering that it was “uncomfortable.” Most Eights will rise to such an occasion, ready for a good battle. For the same reason, some other Enneagram aficionados believe he’s a Six.

Really, though, I don’t know Simon Cowell. I have no idea what his Enneagram type is. I like his bluntness, wherever it comes from.

I’ll admit it. Attempting to type famous people is fun. Think of it as an ennea exercise, practicing our understanding of the hallmarks of type. But that’s all it is.

I am always amazed (and a little chagrined) when Enneagram enthusiasts, authors, and others claim to know definitively the type of some famous person. I know that I’ve fallen into the same trap myself in the past.

The truth is that unless we personally know said famous person AND that they have confirmed for us their type, we have no idea of their Enneagram proclivity.

Sure, we can see traits and characteristics. We can even feel energy, an individual’s force field, which supplies more clues as to type. But as any good Enneagram observer will tell you, we don’t know diddly about how a person truly feels inside unless s/he tells us.

The Enneagram describes nine very different ways of perceiving, acting, and being in the world. Each of these unique viewpoints stems from an internal worldview based on a set of assumptions and beliefs about what it takes to survive and thrive. For example, the Eight worldview can be rather simplistically described as “The World is A Jungle and Only The Strong Survive.” The Nines believe the world is at its best when we are One with everything and harmony rules. And so on.

From the outside, it is difficult if not impossible to tell another’s type. Time and again, I’ve worked with families who were conversant with the Enneagram (even Enneagram teachers) and did not realize the inner landscape of the members of their own close nuclear family. This underscores for me the best use of the Enneagram as an invitation to understanding through inquiry. “How is it for you?” we might ask, creating an open space for learning about another.

My teachers, Helen Palmer and David Daniels, conducted panels of type (as do all of us certified in the Narrative Tradition of the Enneagram). Their greatest skill (and gift) was approaching each person on a panel with the curiosity and openness of a child. Although they were “experts”, they questioned as if they had no idea what a given person of a known type might say. Hence, we continually learned more about type and individuals. By genuinely wishing to understand another’s internal terrain, they avoided typing or stereotyping vis a vis a given set of external traits.

My son is a Nine. He knows his own internal landscape well, having learned the Enneagram at a very early age. Still, looking at him from the outside when he is working at his high pressure, high profile job, it would be tempting to see him as a Three. He exhibits the adaptability, productivity, and selling charm of a Three. But when he goes home at night, it’s back to Nine land. When he is anxious about something, he looks like the archetype of Six as he scans for danger and worst case scenario. And then he returns to home base: Nine.

So whether we are looking at famous people or our own best friend, it’s important to remember that traits don’t make the man. Or the woman. Any of us might exhibit any trait in a given situation. WHY we do it is much more telling. And the only way we’ll know...... is to ask.