Monday, August 18, 2008

Our Little Public Relations Problem

Warning: humor ahead.
On the last day of the IEA conference, the IEA announced a new initiative, which was then reiterated in their latest e-newsletter:

"At a time when conscious awakening is much needed, we believe it is essential to make the Enneagram available to a larger number of people worldwide. To this end, the IEA is embarking on a fundraising effort to organize and promote an annual 'World Enneagram Day.' Starting in July, 2009, we envision this to be a very special day in which a significant number of Enneagram teachers and practitioners around the globe will offer free classes, talks, and workshops to spread the word to local communities. Our goal is to make a significant impact on the world with the Enneagram, while enlarging our circle and inviting more people in... we believe it’s time to reach out beyond our familiar community and invite the world to experience the profound benefits of the Enneagram. This is why we will be embarking on these organizational and fundraising efforts to establish the 'World Enneagram Day.'"

Ever since I heard this, I have had that feeling you get when, you know, there you are, watching a train barrelling toward a brick wall, and the people inside the train don't know they're headed for a brick wall, and the brick wall doesn't know a train is headed for it, and even if they did know, they can't stop the train, and the wall can't move, and there's nothing you can do about it either. Surely the Germans have a succinct word for this. Let's just call it dread.
Why dread, you ask? Well, part of it's because my philosophy of life can pretty much be summed up as, "Let's not call attention to ourselves," but in this case, there is a special degree of dread because the Enneagram has a pr problem and it's like the IEA has no idea. I suspect it's because the IEA is mostly made up of people who do Enneagram stuff for a living and who therefore have limited contact with the hamburger-eating, television-watching masses on whom they are about to foist their ideas.
Let me explain the problem by means of comparison. Let's examine three fringe spiritual systems for potential pr landmines. I have chosen A Course in Miracles, the Ennegram of Personality, and Unitarian Universalism because (1) I am somewhat involved with all three, and (2) they are somewhat similar in that they all have their modern origins in the 1960s. Here we go:

Category 1: What's in a Name?

A Course in Miracles: Sounds great. I want to learn about miracles. Sciencey, secular humanist types may beg to differ, but I believe in miracles, you sexy thing. Points: +1
Enneagram: Indian-gram? Ennea-what? Idio-who? -1
Unitarian Universalism: A church's name should mention Jesus. -1

Category 2: Symbols

Course: None. Nothing ventured; nothing gained. Points: 0
Enneagram: It really looks a lot like a pentagram, and the pentagram has some rather notorious pr problems of its own. -2
UU: The flaming chalice. Check it out here. It's attractive, but it smacks of paganism. - 1

Category 3: Origin Story

Course: (From the Wikipedia article): "In 1965, Helen Schucman, an associate professor of medical psychology appointed to the faculty of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, experienced a series of particularly vivid dreams. Soon thereafter, she began to hear a 'Voice' she identified as Jesus which would speak to her whenever she was prepared to listen. Schucman reported that she heard from the Voice the words, 'This is a course in miracles. Please take notes.' Schucman then began to write down what she described as a form of 'rapid inner dictation. Between 1965 and 1972, Schucman filled nearly thirty stenographic notebooks with words she received from the Voice." Kooky, but at least it mention Jesus. Points: -1
Enneagram of Personality: Oscar Ichazo is the originator of the Enneagram of Personality (as distinct from earlier uses of the Enneagram symbol.) Unfortunately, he claims to have gotten the idea while under the influence of Metatron (who, as it turns out, is a real Archangel and not the leader of the Decepticons, as I had previously believed.) Ayyyy. -2
UU: In 1961, after a century of committee meetings, the American Unitarian Association (Christians who didn't believe in the Trinity) was consolidated with the Universalist Church of America (Christians who didn't believe in Hell) , thus forming the Unitarian Universalist Association, which more or less threw out Christianity altogether. -1 for dispensing with Christianity.

Category 4: Famous People Associated with the Movement

Course: Marianne Williamson, who wrote A Return to Love, which you have to admit is a catchy title. Also Oprah Winfrey. Points: 1 for Williamson, 2 for Oprah. +3
Enneagram: Here, I have to return to Ichazo, who is still alive and well and causing trouble in Chile. There are those who say the Arica Instuitute is a cult; there are those who say they do all kinds of drugs down there; there are those who have accused Ichazo of bad sexual misconduct. I'm not saying it's necessarily true, but I am saying it's not helping. -1 each for sex, drugs, and cult activity, for a whopping -3.
UU: The most famous Unitarian Universalist is Robert Fulghum, who wrote All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. It's quite palatable. +1.


Course: a repectable +3
Enneagram: having lost every category, it comes in at -8
UU: a totally manageable - 2

So, you see we have a problem. Here are some possible solutions:

(1) Perhaps, instead of calling it "the Enneagram", we should just refer to it as "that circle star thingy", which is less threatening and what we call it a lot of the time anyway. From now on, I will be calling this blog "Mary Beth and Cindi's Holistic Circle Star Thingy Agency."
(2) Well, there's really no getting around our symbol, so I suggest coating it in sugar whenever possible. The cookies (as in our logo picture) were a good start. Also, it never hurts to utilize the power of cute puppies. (See Saturday's post.)
(3) Origin: Whenever anyone mentions Metatron, we'll all just laugh like it's a big inside joke. And return their attention to Claudio Naranjo, who is a medical doctor and a Guggenheim fellow and who has studied at Harvard and UCLA.
(4) Let's all encourage Ichazo to tone his, um, intensity down a bit as he emerges onto the world stage. Here in the US, we have an evil President who got elected twice basically because he was more folksy than the other candidate. All Ichazo needs is a big belt buckle, some cowboy boots, and an anti-intellectual sneer. Then, he'll be able to get away with murder.


mario said...

You raise some excellent points. I find the evangelical tone of this announcement to be troubling. The implication is that, rather than being a tool that people can use for whatever path they are on, the Enneagram is a path unto itself.
It's not, and shouldn't be.
There are enough people trying to save the world; I hope the Enneagram community stays out of that business.
It was nice to meet you at the conference this year.
Mario Sikora

Cindi said...

Hi Mario.
It was good to meet you at the conference as well.
Even though I used a lot of humor in this post, I am genuinely feeling some dread. I worry when any organization (including my church) starts down the road of thinking "The world needs us, whether they know it yet or not!"
Maybe it will be a good thing if the Enneagram gets more popular; we'll see.

Mary Beth said...

Ah, so Public Relations is why we need the Enneagram of Cute Puppies? What I think we need is a bigger Enneagram of Cute Puppies... I can barely make out the cute puppies. Enneagram of Big, Cute Puppies, please...

Also: Untarian Universalism's name problem is that it sounds like the Unification Church, which really is a cult. So take off AT LEAST another point there.

Amy said...

Symbols- UU- it's always reminded me of a genie's lamp. Rub it well and good things will come out.

Cindi said...

Yeah, one of UU's problems is that it's so easily confused with other things. And Amy, I do like the flaming chalice; it's just that the word "chalice" reminds me of my brief attempt to be a Wiccan.
I am having some technical difficulties with Blogger and the cute puppies. I created the document in Word (a feat in and of itself) and then uploaded it to google docs, which jumpled the pictures badly and provided no way to get them back to normal. In the end, I just took a picture of the printout and uploaded it here, and this is as many pixels as we get. If you make it larger, it just distorts. But don't worry, Mary Beth, I have a paper copy for you.