Updated: Oct 26, 2021
No one gives a damn about the enneagram. There, I said it. But you know there's more to this abrupt statement so hang with me. Don't stop too soon (that will make sense later!) :-)
No one cares that you can draw the enneagram symbol without lifting your pencil. That’s a cool trick but no one cares about cool tricks unless you’re a magician…which you are not.
Mathematicians or architects might care about the enneagram. It’s an interesting 9 sided drawing. But other than those folks, no one cares.
Before you think I’ve desecrated what so many think is a sacred symbol, please allow me to explain. If you are reading this you, most likely, already know the word ‘enneagram’ is simply a word for a 9 sided drawing. It is believed that it has its roots dating back to ancient Greece and Asia Minor but no one knows where the symbol originated and therein, lies some of its mystique. We are naturally curious about the things we can’t explain. While the enneagram symbol is, indeed, intriguing to look at, no one truly cares about it. Being intrigued and curious is not the same as caring. Just like the blueprint an architect creates for a magnificent building, it lies useless until a builder follows the design map to manifest or build what the blueprint symbolizes. The value is not in the image that’s on the paper but what can be created from the blueprint. It is the same with the enneagram; the value is in what the symbol represents. So when I say ‘I love the enneagram’, that’s not a true statement. And I’ve said it many times! I’m here to correct myself and make it known that I do not care about the symbol of the enneagram.
I’m reminded of an analogy I once heard. It goes like this….a family is headed to Florida. They’ve never been to Florida and they are collectively giddy with excitement. For years they have collected brochures of Florida and have planned their trip in high anticipation of getting to the sunshine state. They drive for hours and finally arrive at the state line with a beautiful billboard saying “Welcome to Florida”. They get out of the car and stand in front of the sign for the obligatory family photo. They squeal with delight that their dream of going to Florida has come true. They spend a little more time admiring the sign, talking about how beautiful the image of Florida is on that sign then return to their car and drive back home having never gone any further than the sign. They stopped too soon.
So, you get the point. We love to glorify signs and symbols. We wear them around our necks, get tattoos, use the images as our screen savers (guilty). But we so often stop at the sign. We stop too soon.
I have heard it said that Harry Potter is one of the most spiritual stories ever written and it is beloved by the masses. I am not one of them. I’ve been told I absolutely must read it and to this day no one’s cajoling has moved me one step closer to investing my time in that bespectacled little wizard. I’m actually pretty sure I would love it knowing how much I admire the book choices of several people who have read each one in the series but thus far, I haven’t cared about it. So when I see the “Deathly Hallows “, a triangle with a struck-through circle in it, which is the de facto symbol from the Harry Potter series, it means nothing to me and it won’t until I understand the story behind the symbol.
No one cares if you studied the Enneagram from one of the "masters" even if it was someone from the lineage of whoever came up with it which, no one seems to know. Even if we did know, which, thank goodness, we don’t, the entire system has evolved because that’s what humans do…we evolve. So whatever pride you have in who taught you, guess what? No one cares!
Do you have 47 certificates from all the programs you took to learn the intricacies of a system that is for your own personal growth but now you feel super qualified to tell everyone else how they should live their own lives? Congratulations! No one cares.
Have you memorized the movement of the arrows from number to number, backwards and forwards, and are you so well versed in this piece of information that you can say it even in your sleep? 1,4,2,8,5,7,1…3,6,9. No. One. Cares.
Can you pick out the Self Preservation 9 with an 8 wing in a crowd? Can you spot the Sexual 4 who is fully evolved and living from their true essence? Or are you the Social 7 who wants to make sure everyone knows you are the counter type in the family of 7s. What a fun guy you are to bring to a party! Guess what? NO ONE CARES!!
I can say this because it’s true. Whether you are a believer in the biblical narrative or not these words are still true….”If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Thanks for those words, Teddy Roosevelt. (I thought I made that up!)
When I first told my 34 year old daughter I was going to write this blog her immediate response was “are you going to dedicate it to me?” Ouch! But there was a day, just a few years earlier, when she told me point blank…”I do not care about the Enneagram. Whenever you start talking about it, I feel judged.” In my newfound knowledge and my desire to redeem myself as her wild and crazy mom, a type 7, and to explain to her what I thought her type was through example upon example of incidents in her life from early childhood to the present moment, I became the poster child for what the meaning of the Enneagram is not. It was that very moment that I realized I had collected the brochures, stood at the sign but neglected to go any further. I stopped too soon.
We have been living in an era of deconstruction for decades, questioning old paradigms, many leaving the belief systems of the generations before, rethinking truth in general. All of this dismantling has left us in a kind of wilderness wandering, detaching from the familiar but uncertain of where we’re headed, parched and thirsty for answers, frantically searching for direction, lost in the darkness of not knowing. The foundations of our past are crumbling and the dust of the falling structures, both literal and metaphorical, are choking and blinding. We have been walking aimlessly in a land of drought…an identity drought.
Conditions seemed optimal for the Enneagram to burst on the scene and spread like wildfire. It was introduced to the US audience in the 1960’s but it began to slowly gain popularity around 2000. As a wildfire that often starts with a single spark, the environment that allows the flames to spread starts with an area that is experiencing drought or extremely dry conditions. This was our internal landscape and the Enneagram was a spark that ignited a fire in many of our souls.
With the introduction of social media and our obsession with monetizing everything, we soon saw the enneagram symbol show up on everything from coffee mugs and tee shirts to jewelry and chotskies to adorn our homes and workspaces. I’m not criticizing those who were able to see the desire of those of us eager to show the world our ‘identity’ by wearing and sharing such items. They created an entire merchandised ennea-industry. I applaud entrepreneurship! But soon it became apparent that we wanted to distinguish ourselves from the whole and the marketplace heard our cries. Our new identity became the enneagram symbol PLUS our number or type. Now, in addition to shirts, hats, necklaces, coffee mugs and car decals we can buy Enneagram type specific scented candles, coffee and even your home’s signature scent based on your Enneagram type. I happen to love my coffee mug that says “Type 7…The Enthusiast” and my fabulously fun tee shirt that asks…”how many Enneagram 7s does it take to screw in a light bulb? None! We brought fireworks!” And who doesn’t love a funny meme? If there was ever anything that was, what we in the south call, ripe pickings for comedy, it’s the Enneagram! I did a quick Google search of ‘Enneagram memes’ and it gave me over 928,000 results in 0.39 seconds! Tomorrow it’ll be over a million because apparently there is no end to the number of ways to poke fun at ourselves. There are Instagram accounts devoted solely to Enneagram memes. A couple of very astute and creative comediennes started producing videos parodying each type in a variety of scenarios from how each Enneagram type experiences Disneyland, Enneagram types under quarantine to how each type experiences childbirth. They are hilarious and I’m genuinely excited to see how my type is mocked because that’s what good comedy does…it takes the ordinary and makes it absurd…which is what humans do naturally but a good comedienne makes us cringe at the brutal honesty and laugh at ourselves at the same time. And when we just couldn’t get enough of ourselves we began trying to determine the Enneagram type of our favorite television and movie characters, celebrities and politicians and, I kid you not, our pets.
And we wonder why some just don’t see or want to inquire into the transforming power of the Enneagram. Some fires destroy and some refine.
So how can I love the beauty of a system like the Enneagram, spend years studying it, acquiring some of those aforementioned certifications, and live in a way that I am not a ringing gong? That makes me think of the old cartoons where some sneaky character, like the roadrunner, creeps up behind the fall-guy character, like the coyote, and blares a horn or clangs a cymbal causing them to fall off a cliff or experience some other painful reaction. Perhaps, you’ve been told in a not-so-subtle way to shut the heck up about the Enneagram already! I’m forever grateful my daughter didn’t have to drop a pound of explosives in my lap to get my attention. If you’ve never watched the Roadrunner cartoons then you’ve missed some classic life lessons. Now you know how I feel when someone, without context, says “Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” Disclaimer…I had to look up Harry Potter quotes to find that one and now, I’m intrigued. Maybe I’m finally ready to move beyond the Roadrunner.
We get so excited about the quest for enlightenment and an assumptive complete understanding of the way the entire universe works that we want to share it with everyone! “It will literally save your life and the life of everyone you know”, is probably how it sounds to those who have no idea their lives even need saving (they don't). Not demeaning anyone’s job but…and you know as soon as I said ‘but’ there’s going to be a little demeaning…you know how you feel when those fast talking guys, usually with a perfect head of hair and an ironic Italian accent given the fact they are working at a mall kiosk in Atlanta, Georgia, suddenly and quite startlingly approach you and just want to ask you one quick question while they thrust a bottle of who knows what toward your face preaching the good news that whatever it is, it’s guaranteed to erase 20 years off that face? I’m getting all the anxiety feels and I’m the one who wrote out that long sentence! That type of approach is called ‘firehosing’, a technique in which a large number of messages are broadcast rapidly, repetitively, and continuously without regard for truth or consistency. If there ever was a spark of interest, it just got doused! That’s what people feel when we insist we have what they need when the truth is, if we truly understood the purpose of the Enneagram, we’d know it’s a road we should travel long and hard by ourself because it’s a journey of discovering our own self. And if along that road someone asks to walk along side you then it will be because they feel you are safe. Trust is earned, not thrust. You can’t thrust trust (I did make that one up!).
My daughter doesn’t need, and definitely doesn’t want, me to analyze her or firehose her with information! No one does. No one wants to feel like a lab rat where some mad scientist is watching their every move under a high powered microscope. You are probably not a scientist! So stop it!
Then what do we do with all this insight, all this information, all this wisdom that has made such a difference in our own lives? Love. That’s it. Love. So simple. Look again at the bible verse we love to quote….”Love your neighbor as yourself.” As. Two tiny letters that change the entire meaning of the sentence. Love your neighbor AS yourself. Perhaps, like the family going to Florida, we have again, stopped too soon. The more we try to fix others the more broken the relationship becomes. As the proverb says…”physician, health thyself”.
Make no mistake, I care deeply for the gift of awareness I've learned through the system and the map of the Enneagram. But our excitement is not in the symbol, the certificates that are simply pieces of paper, or even the depth of knowledge we’ve gained by years of inquiry into the journey of the Enneagram. As Beatrice Chestnut shares in her book, The Complete Enneagram, “It all begins with the simple idea of developing the ability to pay attention, and, in doing so, generating a clearer understanding of what is going on inside you.” It’s shining a soft light on our own tender hearts, revealing what we need and what we don’t to know we are loved. It’s the refining fire a silversmith uses to burn away all the impurities to reveal the pure silver.
Our excitement is in the discovery of our true, perfect identity…in understanding why we think and feel the way we do, breaking free of the patterns that keep us in bondage to fear, the uncovering of the parts of ourselves that prevent us from knowing the depths of love, the revelation of our worth and an empathy for those who have yet to understand their own. Until we care enough to care for ourselves so we can care about others….no one cares.
*The word 'enneagram' is written with a capital letter when speaking of the personality system, but not when referring to the symbol.*
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