Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Susan Rhodes on a More Positive Enneagram

What follows is Susan Rhodes' email response to my blog post "The Power of Negative Thinking." My comments on her comments appear in brackets. -- Cindi

"I enjoyed reading your article and agree with you wholeheartedly that negative thinking is extremely powerful. The problem, as I see it, is that it's a little too powerful. Yes, the enneagram is more powerful than the MBTI, which I believe is due to its esoteric origins, particularly its geometry. This is why the enneagram can so powerfully penetrate someone's defenses and create an opportunity to experience a life-changing shift in perspective."

[I am certain that you know more about the origins and geometry of the enneagram than we do and would love to have you elaborate on what you mean. Mary Beth and I both find that, when we try to read up on that stuff, our minds just sort of slide right off the page. ;-) Although... Mary Beth is working on an article on Gurdjieff. - C]

"However, when a tool has this kind of power, a little bit of insight goes a long ways. In other words, it's really easy for people to get overloaded with information, and when that info is mainly negative, it can potentially act like a powerful (and psychically destabilizing) drug. That's the short-term problem with studying the enneagram from a negative perspective.
I see the long-term problem as more serious. It's the problem of negative framing. Negative framing is what happens when we encounter a system that is intrinsically negative in orientation. If the system is powerful, and we if use it a lot in our daily lives, it will tend to make us look at things from a negative perspective. Take the example of "fire and brimstone" preachers--their attention is so oriented toward (avoiding) hell that they never seem to get around to embracing heaven. They might believe in heaven, but how can they make it a living reality, so long as hell is their primary focus?"

[A good metaphor. I agree with that. - C]

"I got the idea of advocating a more positive approach after I met so many experienced enneagram users and teachers who seemed disheartened about their type. Whatever breakthroughs they had made when they initially encountered the system, after years of working with it, many seemed to arrived at a place of rueful resignation. They still appreciated the system, but from my perspective, it no longer seemed to be helping them find greater freedom in their lives."

[Understood. I think some of the differences in our perspectives stem from the differences in the people we discuss the enneagram with. You seem to be surrounded with enneagram teachers and long-term users, but most of the people I speak to about the enneagram are beginners. They haven't become disheartened yet, because they might still be in denial of their type, or embracing their type in an ego-driven "I'm an 8, so of course I'm gonna be like such-and-such" way that doesn't take the type's pitfalls seriously. - C]

"And that's the whole problem with an approach that has a negative orientation: Where do you go after the first big breakthrough? Once you know the shortcomings of type, what do you do next? How do you proceed?"

[I will say that, for myself, reminding myself of the shortcomings of my type (5) has been enormously beneficial. Once I became sufficiently cognizant of the 5's lack of generosity, I was able to remember more and more often to be just a beat more generous -- with my time, my energy, my attention, my help, and my knowledge -- than I would be as a default. This simple move has paid off richly in vastly improved relationships. There's a lot to be said for "catching oneself in the act", and then stopping it. -- C]

"In my articles, I like to cite one of my favorite Sufi quotes: 'First remember your faults, then forget them.' Yes, knowing the shortcomings of the type can be helpful. But dwelling on them is not. ( How well I know this as a Four!) If we start with a value-neutral framework--one in which we can look at both positives and negatives--then we can look at type in many different ways, depending on the need of the moment."

[I can see that, as a 4, you might not need anyone to draw your attention to the negative! The negative aspects of truth are pretty difficult for the positive outlook types -- 2, 7, and 9 -- to see, though.
I agree that there is definitely value in looking at positive aspects of type. Knowing the healthy attributes of your particular type helps you "know which way is up", as Mary Beth would say. And seeing the positive attributes of the other types reminds you that you can borrow a strategy that works when your preferred strategy does not. -- C]

"I'd like to briefly comment on the idea of using positive type info to initially attract peoples' interest (in your words, to 'lure' them) and then hitting them with the stuff that's not so positive: I would not recommend this approach, because it does not respect the free will of those we are trying to attract. I think that each of us has to decide for himself whether he is ready for a big change in life. Why should I want to try to trick another person into changing? This is their responsibility, not mine. It's hard enough for people to change when they are already highly motivated.

[Perhaps "lure" was a poorly chosen word -- but that's how it seemed to happen to me! I first encountered the enneagram through Baron and Wagele's The Enneagram Made Easy, which definitely puts a positive spin on things. Then I proceeded to Helen Palmer's writings. Palmer also draws her anecdotes from mostly high-functioning people. At that point, I found the enneagram fun, accurate, and interesting, but not much of an impetus for change. I saw some of the Riso/Hudson material and Margaret Keyes' book Emotions and the Enneagram, but those works struck me as real downers. It wasn't until I reached a really low point in my life that I started to look at the enneagram from a "Gee, maybe I'm doing something wrong here" perspective. I swam with that hook in my mouth for nearly a decade!
That said, I would never advocate purposefully presenting positive only, and then suddenly hitting up a prospective enneagram student with the negative. My experience is that people hear what they need to hear, when they're ready to hear it. On this blog, we present a balance of fun and serious, light and dark. People are free to take what they want and leave the rest.
Thanks for your comments, Susan.
Everyone -- Please visit Susan's website: http://www.enneagramdimensions.com/. -- C]


Mary Beth said...

I would like to comment on one danger of studying the enneagram: that one will have a more negative view of one's own AND OTHER PEOPLE'S behavior. The reason I am pointing this out is, that this has happened to me. I have become more cynical about other people's behavior. However, whether this is helpful depends upon where you start. I feel the enneagram has been extremely helpful in showing the positive and negative inherent in ALL life approaches, and how they relate to one another. For example, while before I might have idealized a 2 and disparaged an 8, now I can see more clearly the positive and negative inherent in both. And having this panoramic approach has provided me with a much more mature vantage point. Much better than being confused as to what healthy and unhealthy behaviors even are! As a 6, I was able to tie myself up in knots worrying about this; now I am able to get a feel for it.

And yes, I am frustrated about being a 6, but don't really wish to be any of the others. I appreciate being shown the bad sides of being a 6, since other people have been seeing it all my life anyway! Saves you the trouble of justifying something when you can agree that your behavior is problematic.

Occasionally I wonder whether the enneagram focuses me on some negative qualities (of myself, not others) to work on rather than others which I also have but that aren't specifically related to being a 6. However, when I think about it, those qualities I have in mind are related to 7 and 9, which are my other two main components, and I intend to work on those points as well.

cindi said...

I know what you mean. Whenever I sort of get a handle on the type 5 stuff, the type 4 stuff really emerges as the next big area for work. I'm half-serious about using the spinner to determine type. If you can't figure out your type, just start somewhere and work on those issues. Chances are, you need to.