The Enneagram (Letter To Z, Copied to O, Regarding the Enneagram as Described in the book Personality Types. All names have been replaced by single letters which may nor may not be the person's actual initial. 'I' refers to Caro. The letter assumes knowledge of the types, which are numbered One through Nine. I wrote this letter about a year ago, but the group unfortunately never got to follow up. Now I'm reading a self-help book, Reinventing Your Life, which everyone in the world should read. It makes it even more obvious what is wrong with a book like Personality Types, and with Meyers/Brigg personality tests, and with energy field therapy.)
You asked me what I wanted to become, or be better at, or something. I said that I wished I knew more about how to interact with people and be more effective with them. You said this meant I was moving to eight, which is something fives do. Then I said I wish that I were more kind and patient. Not only does this not have the buzzwords ('understand,' 'know,' 'find out') that a five uses; but it seems to me you should have said that I was moving to two (the helper) or perhaps to nine (the peacemaker). You didn't.
What I notice about the conversation is the you were ready to see the theory in action when your initial assessment of me as five was confirmed; and that the statements I made (and make all the time) that indicate disparate personality types went undernoticed. (You did notice them; all you said was "that's interesting").
I had wanted to get to more intelligent support of my claim that I don't fit into any of the types, not even sloppily. We didn't get to that. This is a very important claim. It is part of the anecdotal support for my claim that the categories are not mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. You had said that this is a strength of the theory (we didn't really fill that out; at a later date, perhaps!) But I'll just say a few words now.
First, briefly, if you find people who don't fit into any of the personality types, this is a fairly serious drawback, especially for a theory that calls itself after the diagram that supposedly locates every human being in personality-space. My claim is that I don't fit any of the personality types--not at first glance, and not after reading full descriptions of them. This can't be a strength. One of the purposes of the theory, as I understand it, is to confront new instances of human beings and come to a quicker understanding of them, based on whether they display the main characteristics of a particular type--given the type, you can make all sorts of other claims about the person. So if you confront someone who doesn't fit into any of the types, the theory is useless to help you. This is what _I_ mean when I say that it is a problem that the types are not jointly exhaustive (I'm not sure what you meant when you said it was a strength; but I'm pretty sure you'd call this failure to locate some human being a weakness)
I don't expect to read one page of the book and be able to judge it fairly. I in fact read the whole book, and I think that you got some sense of my familiarity with it last night. So I feel that I can safely refer to the short list on page 34 without your judging me to have made an uninformed dismissal merely on its basis. I refer to it merely for convenience. For O's information, I'm referring to a key-value pair list where the key is the number of the type and the values include 4 main traits of the type. You're supposed to consider this list and see which list of traits fits you best. Without O's seeing the list, I will go ahead and pick out the traits that I think are exceedingly important in my personality (whether the traits indicate disease (S for 'sick'), health, something I desire or mean to be (M for 'mean to be or mean to be more of'), or something that I demonstrably am (A for 'am')). Then we will determine from this set which of the types I fit.
generous (A, M, S)
possessive (A, S)
uninhibited (A, M)
self-righteous (if this doesn't have the usual negative connotation) (A)
So far, so good. I have managed to assign 25 of the 36 descriptive words to myself, and I would say that all of these are _importantly_ ME. Nor would I say that I am _sometimes_ some of these things, and sometimes others. I am all of these things, all of the time. Thus, we can say that the authors have managed to list many very important characteristics of actual human beings.
Unfortunately, it puts me in every category.
Also unfortunately, I have at least two of each of the main traits of each category, but never more than three. IF we could have shown that, although I don't have four out of four of every category's traits, well, at least I have three of this one, but only one or two of some of the others, THEN I might back off my claim to see what else there is to say just about this initial list. But this has been contradicted already.
In addition, I'm supposed to "feel comfortable" putting myself into one of the types, and then go on with my investigation. I feel uncomfortable with EVERY SINGLE TYPE.
And not only do I not see myself in any of the categories; I can't think of anyone (offhand) who I would think fits any of them. Because this is a theory that is supposed to help me navigate through the world by means of contentful concepts, that's pretty bad.
Let's do H. What counts here is _my_ view of H, if I understand the theory, not yours, or H's, because _I_ am supposed to use this theory to improve my understanding of H. In other words, just to belabor the point (keep reading, Z), we classify dogs together and cats disjoint from them because there is something interesting that we can learn about some dogs that will give us principles about dogs that will enable us to understand all dogs. So I should be able to use the personality types to tell me things about H. B and you tell me he is a five. Yet I find this designation contradicts most of what I know about H. (I won't use the 'am, wish to be, etc' designations, because I can't speak to them very well.)
At 17 out of 36, he's not quite as spread out over the types as I am, and, as I pointed out, he seems to me to have all the qualities of the six, the Loyalist. Now let's do B.
So far, B is as close to being a five as I am, but has different traits than her five husband. I'm undecided as to whether she is original; perhaps she is too young for me to get a sense of this. The other traits in the list, I get a _strong_ sense of. Yet she doesn't seem to fit any of the categories any better than I do, so so far I'm only able to use the theory to understand H better. In fact, she seems to me to have all of the characteristics of the two, the helper! (Do fives move to two??)
I'm not going to list the qualities of the people I'm talking to. But I would like to do S:
manipulative (Oh! he's a two, the helper!)
depressive (Oh! he's just like B!)
original (Oh, no he's not)
paranoid (Oh! He's actually a lot like H!)
peaceful (yes, combative AND peaceful)
Well so far all of us are turning out to be self-righteous, anyway, though I probably wouldn't say that of O. S has all of the qualities of the nine. So at least he and B and H have in common that they all fit one of the types! Unfortunately, they also all fit several other types fairly well.
If you can reinterpret any of these lists as people moving somewhere, be my guest. If you do, I'd say that that just shows that the theory is viciously unfalsifiable--if the categories don't serve to adequately categorize people, even roughly, then just point out that they are moving rather than fixed.
Here's what I think the underlying problem is. The theory tries to do entirely too much. It tries to do it with too little data. I _suspect_ (though I have no proof) that the authors looked at some people they knew and said, "Person one is a, b, c, and d. Person two is e, f, g, and h. Wow! Person three is i, j, k, and l! And I can see how person one, given a, would be c and d as well. Whoa! That's a lot of explanatory power!"
To which I respond, "Perhaps it is--for person one. Not for anyone else in the world, because there's no interesting relationship between those traits in general, though this person probably makes sense as a whole." But a claim like that doesn't sell books.
I think a distinction needs to be made. I have no problem with your finding a trait which B, O, you, H, and I all share. There is no question that we do share some traits. My problem is that I do _not_ think that this description:
"The Five is perceptive, original, detached, and eccentric"
fits us all. I know that you won't take this as criticism, but I think that, even compared to ordinary human beings outside our normal circles, you, O, and H are UN-perceptive, in a variety of ways. I don't think that it helps to say that, for some narrowly circumscribed field or interest, a person is perceptive. But even if you don't agree with that, I am perceptive in a way that is so different from the way that you might think the three of you are, that it doesn't even make sense to call it the same thing. B is more perceptive in the sense I mean.
Let's move on to 'original'. I hardly know what to say here. I think anyone would take "You are not original" as an insult, and expect no one would say, "I'm not original". And that's just guessing at what 'original' could mean. I imagine it means "comes up with ideas that no one else does". Hardly a description of H. Does it mean 'unconventional'? Also not a description of H. In fact, H looks pretty six to me (where six is engaging, committed, defensive, and paranoid). [Question aside: who the hell would say, "I'm paranoid"?! Who would take it as a compliment? Do you really think that my merely asking the question indicates that I'm just not a six?)]
Next trait: detached. Detached I am most definitely not, though O, you, and H I would describe that way. B is definitely not. She may _detach_ herself, as she detached herself from me; but it is _because_ she becomes so wrapped up in other people, their opinions of her, lets it matter to her own self-esteem, that she finally has to detach herself in a complete and irrevocable way in order to escape. H simply doesn't attach to anyone or anything, whatever the reason. I become deeply attached to people and things, and in this I am very like B; but I want people to think exactly what is true of me, and if they think worse or just "orthogonally" then I don't care. S recently accused me of being a one because I am _so_ disinterested in my image.
This brings us to eccentric. Oh, am I ever. And what I mean by that is just the fact that I _don't_ fit in well with any of the groups that draw me (Objectivists, philosophers, musicians, literary people, even my groups of friends). I am always on the outside. This used to bother me, not because I had an intrinsic desire to fit in, but because my outsideness always seemed to put a significant and painful distance between me and other people I wanted to be with--there was always someone else with whom they clearly melded so much better that I was a negligible value. Now I just see my outsideness as a matter of fact, something that has happened because of the varied roads I have wandered and because I have not put any effort into belonging. B makes lots of explicit statements regarding her eccentricity: I don't like pink--everyone likes pink! I don't believe X--all Objectivists believe X! I don't want one of those--everyone has one! Eccentricity to _me_ is not important, and not a value. It happened and happens to me. As such, i have mixed feelings about it: on the one hand, it is a result of my doing all the things that I so dearly love, that one can stand back and say, "How eccentric you are!" On the other, it puts distance between me and others that I dislike, but have come to accept because I don't want to give up the things I dearly love. And on for the rest, I guess I would say that you and O are eccentric, especially you, in the sense that I mean. H is utterly conventional, and apparently means to be.
Thus, on just the basis of the main traits that are given on this page, I would have to conclude that the five of us are dissimilar enough that I am unable to find any interesting purpose for classifying our whole persons together, despite the fact that we do have some things in common, one of which you pointed out last night: interested in knowledge. But that's a very broad description.
For you , I will pick only the traits I consider complimentary or neutral, and hope that I don't insult you in the process:
I consider this to be _important_ traits of yours. Thus, if _I_ were to design a book based on people I knew, there'd be an Z type, such that it was all of these things (plus the bad things I didn't list, but of course we all know that there are going to be some about any person we pick. I get to pick on B, H, and S because they don't have to listen to the insults).
One of my concerns:
Z, you have already demonstrated (including last night--I'm not talking about distant past) a tendency to infer entirely too much on the basis of too little information, to project an entire psychology that you have created onto someone else on the basis of a few traits. Why is this a bad thing?
*Because it gives you the wrong answers.*
Sometimes these answers are insulting or even detrimental to the person you are assessing, sometimes unwarrantedly complimentary. I think the _method_ is fallacious, but it's also a normatively bad thing because you get things wrong and this has undesirable consequences.
I think the enneagram encourages and aggravates this sort of tendency wherever it may lie. I think there is a tendency in Objectivist circles to do the same sort of thing, because reason is king and, after all, you can reason about people's traits. I find this so wrong as to be laughable. I think the most one can say is, "This person is generous. But he is also paranoid. Therefore, the mere fact that he is paranoid can make you wary of just how generous he will be and under what circumstances; in other words, you should be careful, because under circumstances where generosity is most called for, his paranoia will prevent him from behaving in even a minimally generous way." And so on.
I think that PARANOID and GENEROUS are in fact personality traits. You can learn some things about a person, based on these traits, and reason succesfully from them to other probable conclusions. You can, upon realizing how paranoid a person is, understand why they would be suspicious of apparently innocent gifts: paranoia is suspicion of people's motives, and an unexpected gift therefore raises all sorts of malevolent speculation. But just as a start, look at the fact that I've got several people on my list (to which I would add my mother) who are both strongly generous and strongly paranoid. Yet there is no personality type that even allows for these two traits to inhere in one person.
Let's look at me. I consider the entire two to be unhealthy. This is the ethical theory. When "healthy" it is an altruist (unhealthy, in my view). When "unhealthy" it is the codependent (unhealthy in everyone's view). I have exhibited these traits strongly, most notably with the nazi, and now have cured the disease to a great degree. But codependency _isn't_ a personality type, any more than altruism is. In other words, what I mean is that _ANY_ person described by the personality types (as well as any _real_ person ;-) could be codependent, and could accept the principles of altruism. The reasons for codependency have nothing to do with "how you are"; they have to do with what has happened to you and how your normal, cross-personality human mechanisms have responded to that. The reasons for altruism are more intellectual, but they too are not a matter of "how you are"; they are a matter of your decisions. Any of the types could accept the principles of altruism, and behave generously, caringly, possessively, and manipulatively. And THAT is because the types don't really mean anything. No one fits into them, so it's not surprising that you can take one of the types, realize that it is an ethical theory, and understand how you could have people from every type fitting into it.
This has all been off the top of my head. I know you'll just skim this, Z, but it at least helped me to organize my thoughts and can serve as a reference point. And it will let O understand why I have drawn the conclusions I have. We can all discuss it further, and my giving you these opinions will help you address my concerns, or perhaps readdress things that you found convincing before. I'm only after the truth. I strongly object to tomes that seem to have little regard for the truth. But I am _not_ unwilling to find out that my assessment was wrong. It's just that what I have seen so far is that you are only on the lookout for confirming data, and disconfirming data is either completely unnoticed or explained away as "movement". Give my list of self-ascribed traits, what, however inexactly, am _I_ moving toward??
In fact, I think that PERSONALITY TYPES is more impressive the faster one skims; perhaps it would be more fruitful for us to sit down together with a limited passage, and pick it apart? I am not determined to be unenlightened, I assure you. It is not important to me that there be no personality types of the kind they describe. I just am unable to see from my own limited perspective how these traits are supposed to go together, and what I'm supposed to make of it even if they sometimes do. What am I supposed to do with myself? Should I just trust _your_ judgment, that I am a five, and reconsider my own failure to place myself in any category? What am I to do with all the other people who in my opinion don't fit anywhere?
I have the feeling that you won't be impressed by these criticisms, and taht you'll see my problem as being one of failure to take the rest of the book into account. And I think you will be disappointed in that assessment. As I refamiliarized myself with the book immediately following the discussion, I found that my assessment is confirmed, rather than contradicted.
I _see_ the confirming instances, no question. I _see_ the things that the authors say that are true, or seem likely. But then I look at people, and the theory falls to pieces. I see that people seem to put themselves into categories that they _wish_ they fit, because for whatever reason they think those are the most admirable qualities; and of course, they think that they are supremely healthy examples of those types ("I'm brilliant, creative, a genius, "nothing escapes [my] notice" (p. 172), a visionary, with a broad comprehension of the world and a profound penetration of it, open-minded, a pioneer. In short, marvelous and astounding. I am like unto Einstein! I am _certainly_ not highly unstable, fearful of aggression, frightened by my ideas, prey to gross distortions and phobias, or schizophrenic.
My claim is _not_ that this is a book of "Barnum statements." That was your original assessment of the book when you first flipped through it, and I had to ask you what that meant. I have specific criticisms of the method, the support, the claims, the structure, and the implications of the theory. It would be difficult to write a 500-page book with NO true claims in it; the fact that some of the claims are true of some people means nothing significant to me.