Friday, November 30, 2007

Self-Typing Advice from Cindi

When people ask me how they can determine their Enneagram type, I almost always give the same advice: go out and get a really good book on the Enneagram, one with really detailed type descriptions, read it cover to cover, and pick out the type that seems most like you. Pretty simple, huh?

Well, almost everyone rejects this advice in favor of either: (a) taking every Enneagram test they can find and getting conflicting results [this way lies madness], (b) attempting to apply whatever out-of-context remark they happen to hear about a person of any of the types to themselves (i.e., "If that guy's a 7, then I'm not one! He's a Republican!"), or (c) some combination of a and b. It can go on for years.

I recognized my type (5 - the Observer) upon reading Helen Palmer's book The Enneagram in Love and Work; a friend of mine recognized his type from Riso and Hudson's Understanding the Enneagram. You could also use Palmer's The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and Others in Your Life or Riso and Hudson's Personality Types. These are all serious, detailed works that do a good job of capturing the gestalts of the types.

Here's how it works: You read various type descriptions, you might even recognize some of the people you know in them, and you think, "Oh, how horrible! Why, if I thought like that, everything would be all screwed up! I mean, behaving that way is just gonna make it impossible for you, or anyone else, to win." And then, you come upon something different -- a perspective that doesn't seem so bad. In fact, it just seems true.

Everyone IS always interrupting you, just as you're about to discover something really important! (type 5) Those bastards ARE always taking from you and never giving back! (type 2) The world IS falling apart because no one ever cleans out the lint tray! (type 1)

But strangely enough, this perfectly reasonable way of looking at the world is written out here, along with eight other worldviews that suck. And you don't see what sucks about it, at least not at first, until it hits you. That's your type, and it's just as bad as all the others. And you've been doing it relentlessly for a long, long time. The sinking feeling in the stomach. The sick feeling. The ringing bell.

These epiphanies can also occur while you are listening to a teacher describe your type. I am happy to report that, when last we taught, Mary Beth and I were able to induce the sick feeling of recognition in several of our students.

These approaches work because they are holistic -- they give you more or less the whole thing all at once, the sum as well as the parts. A good description is thorough, nuanced, and anecdotal. Recognizing yourself in it is like identifying with a character in a book or a movie. You might be of a different age, sex, race, life situation, and political affiliation than that character, but somehow you just know that, at an archetypal level, that person is like you.

Enneagram tests often fail because they are too analytical and too straightforward "I am an avaricious person. Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, or strongly disagree?" How's a person supposed to respond to that? Plus, there's no guaranteeing that the test-taker will believe his or her results, since, if the question is faulty, he or she might not even fully believe the data he or she fed the test. Garbage in, garbage out.

I am interested in developing more holistic approaches to typing. I am sure I will be blogging about them, at length, soon enough. In the meantime, you might try the method shown above. If the spinner lands on zero, you have to promise to go away and amuse yourself with Myers-Briggs typology exclusively for at least one year. Then, you can spin again.

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