I came back from Portugal early this week, where I attended the 2014 European Enneagram conference. Before I discuss the conference, I have to share how much I enjoyed Lisbon; it’s a gentle and vibrant city, which makes you want to stay there forever.
The conference was a big success, gathering people from 26 countries around the world. As it usually happens in these IEA regional conferences, the ambiance was friendly and the spirit of the community flourished, most teachers attended other teachers’ sessions in a spirit of open-minded learning, and everything worked smoothly due to the fantastic organization and work of the IEA Portugal team.
Uranio Paes’ endnote address was widely discussed and he raised some relevant comments about the challenges the community faces today. One might agree or not with his point of view, but my hope (as is Uranio’s) is that these ideas will trigger fruitful discussions and will help us move forward as a community.
Uranio spoke about an idea that some IEA board members had at some point in the past: hosting a symposium where thought leaders in the community could discuss Enneagram theory and reach consensus on fundamental concepts. Today, the IEA board does not think that it is the IEA’s role, or that it is what the community needs. The Enneagram of personality is a young body of knowledge that still needs to grow and mature. But in order to do that, we must be able to discuss things in a productive way; sharing insights effectively, challenging our own and other people’s ideas, with respect and open-mindedness.
My concern, though, is that we don’t always know how to have these discussions; we fall into different traps that make some conversations sterile. Another consequence is that many people don’t want to engage in discussions about Enneagram ideas, for the tone and shape of those discussions are not very inspiring.
What can we do then? I believe we should learn how to have better discussions about Enneagram theory, and here are some ideas on how to start. It is not a complete list, but it can be a start.
1. If you are going to share an idea, share it.
• Be clear about the nature of the idea; is this just a thought that came up based on one observation? Is it based on many observations over time of people other than yourself?, Is it speculation based on previous knowledge you have? It is important to state these things at the beginning, so that the discussion can be at the appropriate level.
• Provide evidence supporting your idea; details about your observations, documentation used to create the idea, etc. If you can’t explain it, don’t share it! I’ve seen cases where people say: “of course you don’t understand, you don’t know my model” or “I can’t explain it to you…” Well, maybe those conversations can’t take place in that particular forum, and need to wait. But don’t expect people to have blind faith in your ideas if you are not able or willing to articulate them more clearly.
2. If you want to discuss ideas, discuss ideas, not people.
• Many times we disregard an idea because the person who is supporting it is not competent (in our eyes), or because the person is of a certain Enneagram type! This is an abuse of the Enneagram.
• Many times we take an idea to be true for the opposite reason—because it comes from an authority in the field. If anyone dares to challenge those ideas/people, they must be looking for attention or have some other secret agenda. The interesting thing is that I’ve witnessed how those authorities have been changing their mind about things, creating a richer and more robust theory. It is usually some of their disciples who are not willing to challenge those old ideas.
3. If you want to type others, understand it is your personal and speculative view, not the truth
• Much has been said regarding typing celebrities and public figures, but I would like to reinforce some points here. Although it is a useful exercise, which helps us to verbalize our ideas and compare them with those of others by looking at a common object (and hopefully learning in the process), it is still only an exercise. We cannot pretend to know anybody else’s type, for we don’t have access to their whole lives (their internal and external experiences).
• When we are working with others, having a hypothesis about their type is very helpful, but we should not force them to take our view as their truth. I’ve seen far too many people who say “my teacher said I’m a type x”. That is simply not helpful to them, and could lead to taking wrong courses of action if the assessment is wrong. The IEA’s Ethical guidelines say: “The Enneagram has profound effects on people. It is most effective when we allow others to discover their type, rather than assuming that we know them better than they know themselves.”
• When interacting with other Enneagram professionals or enthusiasts never tell them they have their type wrong – be it during a conversation or simply when we feel the need to tell them what we think their type is (yes, it happens…). It can feel very aggressive and arrogant to the person listening, even if your intention is a noble one. What we could do is share what we see in their behavior that looks like another type; and be open to listening to the person’s view. Even in this we should tread carefully and ask the other person’s permission to share out thoughts.
The guiding principles for these conversations should be respect and open-mindedness.
But how every person shows respect might be different. Is it just a matter of letting everyone say what they want without questioning the ideas? Or is that really just another name for indifference?
I would invite the community to show respect by paying attention to other people’s ideas, asking for more background, challenging the premises and conclusions and giving feedback based on solid arguments (not just gut feeling).
How open-minded should we be? Enough to challenge our previous ideas and incorporate new ones when there is enough evidence to justify doing so.
I hope this gives you some food for thought. My goal is that more of us engage in conversations that take the community to a new level so the Enneagram can keep growing and maturing.
Maria Jose Munita
President, IEA Board of Directors