The Enneagram: the least likely most useful thing I have encountered….

By temperament and culture, I am not given to “new age” thinking. If it came out of California and it isn’t a pair of Levi’s, it starts out with two strikes against it. There are no crystals in my apartment, unless I am indulging a nerd toy of a crystal diode radio (soon to be harder to find, since Radio Shack seems to be circling the corporate debt drain.) We speak Nerd in the Godfrey household, militantly so; bury us with our 20-sided dice.

Perhaps the only inside joke that my children’s mother and I still treasure from our marriage was our disbelief at fellow B&Bers in Canada sitting around the breakfast table talking, in all seriousness, about their “kundalinis rising.” For me, and I think for her, it had about the same level of dramatic irony that pervades the most hilariously indecent of SNL skits, but no one was laughing except me and my then-pregnant then-wife (laughing on the inside, to be polite.) She was at that time religiously conservative, I a secular-minded Nerd, but we found common ground at our near-inability to keep from bursting out laughing hearing our fellow guests holding forth on how their kundalini would rise up from their insides.

It is with this hard-nosed, woo-hostile outlook that I encourage (especially to attorneys) an open mind toward a model of human personality known as the Enneagram of Personality, and to examine the evidence for it and against it.

No single blog post can do justice to this model, but in summary, the model posits nine (Greek: ἐννέα) personality types with certain strengths and weaknesses, very roughly as follows:

  1. The Reformer – someone with a sense of mission (examples: Confucius, Pope John Paul II, Meryl Streep, Jimmy Carter)
  2. The Helper – someone with a desire to be needed by others (examples: Leo Buscaglia, Pope John XXIII, John Denver, Elizabeth Taylor, Dolly Parton, Mother Teresa)
  3. The Achiever – someone ambitious and highly driven for advancement (examples: Augustus Caesar, Muhammad Ali, Bill Clinton, Taylor Swift, Barbra Streisand)
  4. The Individualist – someone sensitive and seeking identity/personal significance (examples: Edgar Allen Poe, Sarah McLachlan, Amy Winehouse, Billie Holliday, Janis Joplin, Marlon Brando, Prince)
  5. The Investigator – someone intensely cerebral, eccentric, isolated (examples: Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, Bobby Fischer, Ursula LeGuin, Jodie Foster, Jane Goodall)
  6. The Loyalist – someone oriented towards security and relief of anxiety (examples: Chris Rock, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, Sally Field, Jennifer Aniston, Ellen DeGeneres)
  7. The Enthusiast – someone extroverted seeking variety and new experiences (examples: Mozart, Richard Branson, Sarah Palin, Bette Midler, Robin Williams, Joe Biden, Timothy Leary)
  8. The Challenger – someone dominating, confrontational and decisive (examples: John Wayne, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roseanne Barr, Tony Soprano, Humphrey Bogart, Susan Sarandon, Serena Williams)
  9. The Peacemaker – someone easygoing, conflict-averse, supportive (examples: Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Stewart, Sophia Loren, Homer Simpson.)

The nine enneatypes are typically portrayed in relation to each other upon an “enneagram” – a geometrical figure of nine points on a circle connected with nine line segments of uneven lengths, representing the purported tendency of personalities at their highest and lowest points to take on some characteristics of other personalities. In some cases, personalities may be on the frontier between types; the model posits that some people may have a “wing” to any adjacent personality type (example: 5 with a 6 wing.) The personality numbers are arbitrary and are NOT intended to rank the enneatypes.

The enneagram and its associated personality models are the creations of G.J. Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. Some have identified the roots of these personality types in early Christian mysticism and, per one account, even within Homer’s Odyssey among the hazards that Odysseus encountered. Those familiar with Catholic theology may be familiar with the concept of “predominant fault” – the tendency of people to do the wrong things again and again.

There is much more to discuss regarding this personality model, but for my purposes I will state that being able to figure out, reasonably quickly, which personality type I am dealing with has helped me immensely to predict conduct and avoid unnecessary conflicts, to be more forgiving of other people in my life and, unexpectedly, of myself as well.  (I am probably 5 or a 5 with “6 wing”, if it matters to the reader.)  For me, it’s a efficient shorthand, comparable to dividing politics into “left” or “right”.

Rather than indulging further discussion here, I would direct inquiring readers to take an enneagram self-test and see what you think of the results. A common result of taking the test and getting the results is something like “Oh God they really did nail me, didn’t they!” But don’t trust me: see for yourself.  Don’t trust me on this; test and see.

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