About the Enneagram
There is an organization called The Flat Earth Society whose purpose I
assume is tongue-in-cheek. Through its literature and newsletter, it
advocates a medieval view of the world and promotes an elaborate thesis
that “proves” the world is flat. The Society claims, for instance, that
photographs of the round earth shot from space are trick photography
and part of a sinister worldwide conspiracy to contradict common sense.
After all, any fool who can see the horizon knows that the world is
Christopher Columbus himself knew better but, in his
day, it was widely believed that the oceans of the world flowed off the
flat earth’s edge. Ships that ventured beyond known territory were
thought to be swept over a huge waterfall and plunged into a deep
abyss. Far down below they would smash apart on sharp rocks and hungry
dragons would devour any surviving sailors. During that era, many maps
of the time had the warning “Here be dragons” written in their margins
– to protect mariners from sailing to their doom.
Each of us is an unwitting member of a Flat Earth
Society, in that we have a personal map of reality that is not reality
itself, an inner subjective view of the world that only partially
reflects the larger one around us. We rarely experience reality per se
but rather our reactions to it. What we internally believe about the
world drives our behavior much more than does external reality.
Our inner map is based on everything we’ve
experienced and learned, which includes our resources, strengths and
what got us this far. But since our map only reflects what has already
happened, it is by definition incomplete – a flat version of the round
Like the Flat Earthers, we
sometimes mistake our personal horizon for the world's true edge.
Unconsciously, within our map, we harbor beliefs about who we are and
the horizon of our abilities. We may even fear that venturing past the
edge of our map will sweep us out of control and expose us to our
personal equivalent of dragons.
The Enneagram itself is a map, a map about maps of
reality. It presents a psychology of the inner outlook, describing nine
personality styles and their core points of view. As such, the
Enneagram maps out nine flat earths, nine versions of reality that
people favor, nine ways the human unconscious creates and organizes
The Enneagram is a clear, exceptionally
accessible version of what’s called “ego psychology” and the part of us
that sees the world as flat is otherwise known as our ego. Most of us
have an intuitive, seat-of-the-pants sense of our ego though we may not
realize its exact nature or depth of influence. We also may not know
that our individual ego is similar to others, that there are species of
The Enneagram describes its nine different egos in a
penetrating way, detailing the inner life, thought patterns and basic
beliefs of each one. No style is presented as better than another, and
each has a range of healthy and unhealthy potentials – strengths, gifts
and advantages as well as limits, pitfalls and blind spots. Although
each Enneagram style has a distinct inner logic and worldview, all are
designed to fulfill the same set of basic psychological needs. Your ego
governs your map of reality, your sense of identity as well as your
core motivations, values and defenses. It controls a tight-knit cluster
of guiding assumptions, offering you both a general sense of direction
and immediate ways to proceed.
Your Enneagram style is a lot like your nationality.
Both define you, and yet within them you’re an individual. Both are
deeply unconscious and shape your perceptions in involuntary ways. Both
your nationality and your Enneagram style are simultaneously deep and
yet shallow, intrinsic parts of you that are apart from you nonetheless.
While the Enneagram describes the sameness of
people, everyone is unique. You have a constellation of qualities that
are particular to your makeup – a personal history, an emotional
temperament, a genetic heritage and a soul. Your Enneagram style is
only part of the picture, yet, in another way, it’s the key to
Through your ego’s inner outlook you accurately
perceive a slice of reality – what author Richard Rohr has called
“one-ninth of the truth.” To some extent, each of us then mistakes our
fraction of the world for the whole and gets stuck in a fixed point of
view. In the bargain, we accidentally delete the other “eight-ninths”
of reality and this omission lays the groundwork for our difficulties.
Once on a boat I noticed a little girl
turning pale with fright as the boat’s engines revved for departure.
“What’s wrong?” her mother asked. The child anxiously replied, “Are we
going to get smaller and smaller and then disappear?” Every boat she
had ever watched from the shore had done that.
Our limited personal focus means that we are very
good at some things but weak at others, like someone on crutches who
develops strong arms. While we excel at what we already know, our other
potentials can lie distant and buried. The Enneagram maps out our
strengths even as it points to the worlds upon worlds of experience
that we are missing.
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