Gift of the Enneagram

The Gift of the Enneagram

These past few years have been tough on all of us. For many of us; a bright light in a world of darkness; has been the Enneagram community. The IEA and Zoom have enabled us to visit and work together despite distance and the all too familiar lock downs.

I have always been impressed with authentic hospitality in groups I visited. The host and other members endeavor to greet the newcomers and enable each to learn, grow, and even to give each other a helping hand. This is of special interest to me (after all this is my orientation as a social eight). I have been called an expert on the subject of “hospitality”, enabled to extensive study and write about it, and even helped pioneer projects that fostered its presence in thousands of faith communities.

I believe generosity is a foundational element for the Enneagram community. The word generosity comes the ancient Indo-European root phrase that means “commitment to others” with can include family, tribe, and even all of humanity. It is also the true root meaning of the word “Genesis”.

The Odyssey is a story where the hero finds wholeness by going nine places and confronting nine challenges to get home. These nine episodes align with Enneagram types in the perfect order: more than mere chance. Nearly twenty years ago, Michael J. Goldberg wrote “Travels with Odysseus” with in depth analysis of each type and challenges faced. He establishes evidence that this over 3,000-year-old story is based on the Enneagram.

Odysseus begins the story as a man dedicated to violence. The first island he attacks has enabled women to also share in leadership. Through the help of caring mentors (often feminine) he finds and lives a meaningful life of generosity. These writings by Homer are the first time the word “mentor” is ever recorded. It is essential to the story’s conclusion.

Scholars agree that the most important theme at the core of The Odyssey is hospitality. This was a social custom common to nearly all pre-modern societies and certainly essential to ancient Greek social structure (parallel to the hospitality demonstrated by Abraham and Sarah to traveling messengers of the divine). This theme is addressed in every single one of the 24 chapters of The Odyssey. It should play a role in every chapter of our lives.

I also see generosity of spirit in the way folks treat each other. The Enneagram helps us to understand our weaknesses and strengths, our joys and sorrows, our fears, and our hopes. We realize that every time we point a finger at someone else; we have three fingers pointing right back at us. We are all broken. Father Henri Nouwen’s book “Wounder Healer” reminds us of our own pains and struggles can be used to help bring healing others.

I believe generosity can be infectious. It only takes a spark to get a fire going. The IEA helps us to hear stories of ways the Enneagram is making an important difference in helping youth find their way, in recovery groups, in prisons, in workplaces, in faith communities, in families, and some many others. There is no limit to the possibilities.  Consider the ongoing growth of the IEA over decades made possible by so many pioneering volunteers that have touched the lives of so many across the globe.

An ancient Hebrew proverb, for example, teaches that, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but ends up impoverished.” The Buddha teaches, “Giving brings happiness at every stage of its expression.” A Hindu proverb holds that, “They who give have all things, they who withhold have nothing.” And Jesus of Nazareth teaches, “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” A Persian proverb, “Everyone goes down to their death bearing in their hands only that which they have given away.

 The “Science of Generosity Initiative” at the University of Notre Dame extensively interviewed thousands. They defined generosity as “the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly”. They concluded that generosity is not a random idea or a haphazard behavior, but rather, in its mature form at least, a basic, personal, moral orientation to all of life. This includes each other and all of creation.

The initiative surmised that “Generosity also involves giving to others, not simply anything in abundance, but rather giving those things that are beneficial to others. Generosity always intends to enhance the true well-being of those to whom something is being given. For this reason, generosity is ultimately an expression of love, even if in specific instances it takes on an appearance of responsibility, justice, duty, or citizenship exercised”.1

They concluded “Generosity does not usually work in simple, zero-sum, win-lose ways. The results of generosity are often instead unexpected, counterintuitive, win-win. Rather than generosity producing net losses, in general the more generously people give of themselves, the more of many goods they receive in turn. Sometimes they receive more of the same kind of thing that they gave—money, time, attention, and so forth. But, more often and importantly, generous people tend to receive back goods that are even more valuable than those they gave: happiness, health, a sense of purpose in life, and personal growth”.1

I highlight these passages from their research because I feel many of us in the Enneagram community are encouraged by their emphasis on caring relationships. “There are more ways to be generous, however, than simply giving away money and time. Some people, after all, do not have a lot of money or time to spare. Another available type of generosity is one we call “relational generosity.” By this we mean being generous with one’s attention and emotions in relationships with other people”. Generous people are also generally happier because they are better equipped to take life in stride and maintain peace and perspective when circumstances are tough.1

The study concludes “this paradox of generosity is a sociological fact, confirmed by evidence drawn from quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews. We have good reason to accept this conclusion, and no good reason to ignore it. We can also state the paradox negatively. By clinging to what we have, we lose out on higher goods we might gain. By holding onto what we possess, we diminish its long-term value to us. In protecting only, ourselves against future uncertainties and misfortunes, we become more anxious about uncertainties and vulnerable to future misfortunes. In short, by failing to care well for others, we actually do not properly take care of ourselves”. 1

 Essentially, the research finds that by sharing our stories and listening to one another, we can learn to better embrace both the beauty and brokenness of the world. It also teaches us that we often receive more than we ever give away. We are enabled to discover life’s true treasures; generosity with ourselves and others. This is the work and blessing of the Enneagram community and I for one wanted to say Thank You!

  • If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap.
  • If you want happiness for a day—go fishing.
  • If you want happiness for a month—get married.
  • If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune.
  • If you want happiness for a lifetime—help someone else. —Confucius


1The Paradox of Generosity; Oxford Press; Hilary Davidson, Christian Smith.

Pastor Robert Driver-Bishop has advanced certifications in Enneagram and Strength Finders. His doctoral studies in spirituality led him thankfully to the Enneagram community. He is board member of the Greater Washington DC Chapter.