Below is a written interview with Sara Davis, founder of Enneagram Openings, an Enneagram Facebook page. This interview grew out of a conversation a few of us had at the IEA Conference in San Antonio. We were discussing how Sara has managed to develop an Enneagram Facebook group where people feel safe to show up, ask questions, reflect on their type, post poetry, music or images and explore Enneagram theory in way that’s both conversational and informative.
It’s a live communal space that hasn’t gone the way of some Enneagram group pages where it devolves into posturing between Enneagram theories and lineages, name calling and disrespecting others as human beings. She’s got a way of humanizing the conversation and the people having it.
As in any good online community, members check one another if the conversation gets to a place where people begin to objectify or project all over one another and Sara curates it in a way where she maintains the kind of tenor that holds the tension between points of divergence and convergence.
1. Sara, what is your personal involvement with the Enneagram? Do you use it professionally/personally?
I use it for both.Personally, I feel like every person I meet is another opportunity to see the dance of the enneagram come to life. The Enneagram has helped my husband and I tremendously – in our own relationship (a 7 & 9 combo) and with our 6 children. I would almost go so far as to say it allowed us to keep our sanity and enjoy our children far more than might have possible without the Enneagram.Professionally – I use the Enneagram in my leadership roles (to understand team dynamics and nurture healthy relationships); in my consulting roles (to help others get out of their own way and get where they want to go); and in my partnership roles (to ask for or claim what I know is super important to me and to give way in in areas that are super important to my partners). I also teach the Enneagram in many different settings – short talks, longer introductions, and 3-day transformation formats.
2. What was your original vision for Enneagram Openings? How has it morphed?
I don’t actually think it has morphed. My original vision was to create a group where it might be possible to get people to share things that they might share on an Enneagram panel. I realized that many people today, only know about the Enneagram from a book or website, and are online trying to make sense of it all. I have always deeply valued panels as a teaching style. I believe that if you learn about the Enneagram from words alone (in a book, article website, or audio) it’s easy to get confused for two main reasons –1) because “words” mean different things to different people. Words like “devil’s advocate”, “artist”, “observer” and so many more, can really resonate with people for very different reasons – some that are quite far from what an Enneagram author meant when using it for a particular Enneagram type. People’s heads can swirl with their own understandings but they can think it’s coming from the author’s words. They might even think their own interpretation is dogma about the Enneagram (and start passing it on as such).2) because when we first encounter a description of an Enneagram type, it’s natural for us to think – “Oh! that’s my father!” or “OMG – that’s my boss” and so on. Once we think we’ve identified someone who we think is a particular type, we tend to overlay everything we know about that person onto that type. It’s easy to think that if we’ve determined our father is a 1 for example, that everyone who is a 1 is like my father. Big logical fallacy! But a lot of people seem to do that if they’ve only learned from written words.The reason I think that watching panels and hearing about the types from the types themselves helps to eliminate (or at least mitigate) these two probems, is that when you first see a panel, you think, “hmmm these folks all look different from one another…. and they’re all 3s?”Then when the people start answering questions that elicit 3ishness, it becomes super clear that while every individual has a unique personality, there is a common “way of being” that is very “3ish”. It allows the audience to simultaneously become LESS prone to stereotype (because they’ve seen a variety of very unique people all categorized as that particular type) and more in touch the idea of 3ishness as a kind of “wiring” or pattern or lens – not as a cookie cutter for a fraction of the population.So…. I wanted to at least try to get some of the great stories that come out of people’s mouths on panels to start coming out in the group. I didn’t see it happening much on other groups (at least not before mine). Instead what I saw was a bunch of posting of different Enneagram material, or posting of opinions about types, or posting of inflammatory statements with Enneagram undertones, etc. There was a lot of pretty hostile and hurtful stuff going on. I didn’t think those environments were likely to be considered “safe” enough to share from the heart about meaningful experiences.I knew that if I wanted to coax some deep sharing from type, I would have to create a safe space. So,while the goal of Enneagram Openings is to get people to share how the Enneagram plays out for them in their lives and to discuss various Enneagram theories against the backdrop of real life experience, the groundrules are, that we need to discuss in an open-hearted, open-minded way. In other words, no inflammatory or duragatory posts. No arguing from a position of “I’m right and you’re wrong because I said so”. We have to be able to discuss things (even differences of opinion or trouble we personally might be having with a particular type) in a way that is thoughtful and respectful.I’m not sure we’ve achieved either the goal or the groundrules 100%, but I actually think we’ve done reasonably well on both fronts.
3. Have you had any surprises?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of deep sharing. In many threads, it has gone beyond my highest hopes in terms of eloquently describing at a very granular level how the type plays out for people.I have been unpleasantly surprised by some crazy politics – it always broadsides me LOL It doesn’t usually pop onto the actual group, but I’ll get people messaging me with some pretty crazy stuff that I certainly didn’t see coming. I don’t want to go into detail of the various dramas that have played out, but I’ll give you one funny example:As a moderator, I try to “like” every post unless I truly disagree with it because I like to reward engagement. This backfired on me once when I was in a remote location in an intense retreat where I had very limited internet access for a week. Even though I had other admins “watching” the group (to make sure that no closed-hearted, closed-minded ruckus could break out) apparently my lack of “likes” that week caused someone to believe that I was favoring others more than them (because they thought their post was similar to posts in the past that I had liked, yet I didn’t like theirs). They “confronted” me about this unfair favoritism and I was of course, gobsmacked. I had to explain that wasn’t the case at all. I was just on retreat.
4. What’s most challenging as the curator?
The most challenging thing is juggling the personality types LOL. We have all types at varying levels of health and maturity, so clashes happen and I often get stuck in the middle with two or more parties messaging me complaining about the other. I end up playing off-group mediator trying to cultivate compassion and understanding in hopes of retaining both members. It usually works, but in a couple of cases, I’ve lost one of them. It’s actually pretty ironic, but it seems that some people want to be in a group that educates and collaborates about differences (especially along Enneagram lines) but they only want to do it with like-minded people that they enjoy — go figure!I have had to coach quite a few people “behind the scenes” – requesting that they change their language patterns to come across more like respectful inquiry than incredulous confrontation.I personally am not going for “like-minded” in the group at all. In fact, I would love it if we had a bit more respectful debates (we’ve had a few good ones). I’m value people (of all different opinions) being OPEN-minded enough to discuss respectfully so all the interesting, juicy nuances of things can emerge.
5. What do you enjoy and/or appreciate about it?
I love how much it feels like a community even though many of us have never met in person. I deeply appreciate all the people who have taken the time to share intimately about themselves and their enneagram journey. And I am very grateful that the vast majority of the people in the group act in very open-minded and open-hearted ways most of the time. I couldn’t be more pleased about that – especially with the ones that didn’t start out that way, but adapted to my requests and the group’s culture.
6. How has it grown you as a person and professional?
Oh wow. Great question.I’m actually not really a “group” person – especially having a 7 core, it isn’t very easy for me to sustain interest and involvement in a group over time – let alone be “responsible” for managing and maintaining one. It takes a huge amount of time commitment to read posts and a lot of patience to deal with the people issues so I would say that personally, it has caused growth in the areas of commitment, responsibility and restraint.Professionally, it has grown my understanding of the Enneagram on quite a few occasions when people have incredibly eloquently explained something about their type – especially in contrast to another type, or in a nuance about subtypes, lines or wings. It has also been very convenient for me to be able to “poll” the types on something that I’m working on professionally. I no longer just guess what each type would want or do. I can ask. That’s fantastic professionally.
7. It seems like it takes a lot of time and effort? On the average, how much time to you devote each week to the EO group? Does anyone help you?
I’m too scared to count up the hours it takes. (I might close the group lol) Seriously, it is probably at least an hour per day.I have several other admins, and they help to watch the posts to make sure nobody gets nasty, confrontational or inappropriate since I can’t have my eyes on the group every minute. Each admin has “delete” authority so they can quickly get rid of anything that violates the spirit of the group. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, I would say it’s quite rare. The admins are all awesome and some of them regularly contribute but I have never actually requested or required that of them. I mainly just wanted to have some extra eyes that I could trust to catch and delete inappropriate posts if they happened to see them.When I am going to be away from the internet for extended periods of time, I formally request that the other admins step up, and they always do, and I think they arrange “shifts” with one another.
8. Are there any particular posts or comments that are memorable for you?
Oh wow. So many. We have had some really great discussions about Enneagram theory. We have had a few super-rich threads when someone has asked for assistance in understanding someone of a particular type. People who are in relationship with that type give insights and people that are the type give explanations and insights.It reminds me of what Helen and David did in my Narrative Tradition training. After a panel of a certain type had already gone, they would then ask the audience if there was anyone that had a relationship challenge with someone of that type. Then they would ask the audience member to point out which of the people on the panel most reminded them of that person. If the panelist agreed to the role play, Helen would stand behind the audience member, and David would stand behind the panelist, and they would essentially role play the challenge or dilemma. It was incredibly brilliant every time. It brought out so much insight and clarity for the audience member. Some of our threads have mimicked that.
9. Given all this time and engagement with both newbies and Enneagram professionals, what advice might you give to people regarding how we engage the Enneagram on social media?
As I mentioned earlier, I think people would be wise to be cautious about ONLY learning the Enneagram from words of authors – (books, website, articles, quizzes, audiobooks, etc.) because its so easy to overlay our own thoughts and experiences onto the types – making it potentially harder to type oneself, and more likely to stereotype (put people and behaviors into boxes that are not actually part of traditional Enneagram theory).So if you’re learning online, I think it’s important to watch virtual panels and curb assumptions. Ask lots of questions of the types and not assume you already know everything about them. It’s important for all of us in the Enneagram community to stay in “Beginner’s Mind” and to respect people as individuals emerging in the present moment. It’s even more crucial if the only exposure is through the internet.In terms of engaging on Social Media, we’ve probably all experienced the fact that what we mean when write something is not necessarily what another person will get when reading it. It’s super easy for misunderstandings to happen when you are dealing with the written word – especially when the parties are behind a computer screen – safe from the world – swirling in their own thoughts and interpretations. So I would suggest that everyone give everyone else the benefit of the doubt. If you are going to make assumptions (as opposed to asking) then why not assume good intentions? Whenever you react and assume that someone has a nefarious purpose in posting something, it’s important to step back and ask if there is any other possible motivation or tone, or inference behind it. And do this assessment with an open mind – not mind-reading LOLYou brought up newbies and professionals. I think the professionals are usually pretty patient with the newbies. It’s the middle-level folks that sometimes forget that people are just learning. I think it would be awesome if we could all welcome newbies with open arms and be patient with their learning curve –even if we think they are mistyping themselves, or stereotyping others — after all, the vast majority of people have been there and done that, so we need to cut them some slack and walk with them at their pace while educating them to be less rigid in thinking about it all.Enneagram understanding tends to start out concrete and rigid, but over time, if you dedicate yourself to growth and understanding around it, things start to loosen up and you realize that it’s not about setting things in stone so you can recite it all back like an encyclopedia or “read someone like a book”. It’s about see the flow — the conceptual flow of the archetypal points going around the perimeter and between the lines on the Enneagram, and the philosophical, psychological and behavioral flow of those points playing out within us.At least for me, the more I learn the Enneagram, the more I know what I DON’T know about people. All I know is an “ish-ishness” and a sort of archetypal flow or energectic dance that happens roughly along Enneagram lines. I hope that Enneagram Openings is playing some role in helping people to be less rigid in their Enneagram understandings.
10. Sara, is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like us to know about curating Enneagram Openings?
Yes, those colorful blobs on the photo are not flowers – they are balls of wadded paper. Russ Hudson has a beautiful visceral metaphor where he takes a large white sheet of flipchart paper and holds it up to represent this open purity we have as a baby… then as experiences like pain and hunger and being left alone happen we start to crumple here and crumple there. As more and more experiences cause crumpling reactions, it doesn’t take long before we are a big crumpled ball – and that’s how we navigate life. The goal of the Enneagram is to “uncrumple” our balls. So in honor of that metaphor, I made an Enneagram with 9 different colored balls around the perimeter. – It’s the 9 ways we are all wadded up. My hope is that the group will play some role in helping us all to “unwad” a bit.Another thing is I would love some help!LOL — Seriously, it would be awesome if teachers and people who are knowledable (or even just able to curate material from various sources) would periodically drop some goodies into Enneagram Openings, it’s great for sparking learning and discussion.Also, please jump in on the discussions – especially in describing how things work for you from your type perspective. It’s authentic conversations like these that help rid the world of Enneagram Stereotyping!