The Enneagram: Good, Evil or Popular

A few self-discovery books on the coffee table

The Enneagram has officially taken off. In fact, according to Google trends, it is at its peak point in popularity. A fairly obscure “spiritual formation” tool is very close to achieving popularity equality with the long-time leader Myers-Briggs. And to make matters more interesting, someone has written a handful of thoughtful songs for each type defined by the Enneagram — something Myers-Briggs (to my knowledge) was never able to inspire.

This surge in interest is due to the following:

(1) InterVarsity Press became the first evangelical publisher to release a book on the topic. The book is, The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.

(2) Christianity Today published “An Evangelical’s Guide to the Enneagram” (November 2016)

(3) The band “Sleeping At Last” has been writing a song for every Enneagram type — now that’s what I call opportunistic art!

Everyone seems to be talking about or listening to podcasts about the Enneagram right now.

“A couple of years ago the word ‘Enneagram’ started popping up in my twitter feed.”
Michael, Medium.com, “The Enneagram & Us: Part 1

Here is the Enneagram search topic trend relative to Myers-Briggs:

Enneagram searches spike to near Myers-Briggs proportions (source: Google trends)

So, the trend is clear and this ancient wisdom more accessible than ever. Does that mean you should jump on the bandwagon?

In my house, we already have. My spouse had found a podcast, checked out a book from the library and purchased the Cron/Stabile book. I actually had an older book on the topic already. I was into Myers-Briggs in college, and a friend pointed me to the Enneagram. Well, 20 years later, it’s back.

My first reaction was, “This is great, I love this personality stuff.” I’m going to re-read everything and go around impressing people with my skills. That’s what I did. A Type 7 friend was listening to a podcast on the topic and I lent him my book. My Type 6 spouse who had not shown any previous interest on the topic was starting to figure herself out. We had stuff to talk about. Everything was good.

I thought I was sure of who I was. I was a wanna-be artist and all artist types seemed to be Type 4. But over time, I came to realize I had actually categorized myself incorrectly. This conclusion was arrived upon after a lot of Google searches. At one point, I was destined to be like Dostoevsky — an Enneagram “Type 4 with a 5 wing”. Eventually, however, I realized that I was probably not a Type 4. This dashed my hopes at being a writer or singer-songwrtier. If you’re wondering where I eventually landed, stay tuned.

Regardless of being a rookie with this Enneagram, I was still hooked. But should I be hooked? Should I go through the rest of my life figuring out what everyone was? I had previously labeled the entire executive staff at my company with their Myers-Briggs letters. I’m pretty sure I nailed it with every single one. Wouldn’t all those around me eventually respect me for my super psycho-powers?

With my online resources, books, and renewed passion, I could easily label people and make sense of why they were the way they were — leveraging both Enneagram and Myers-Briggs.

And there was some hope I could still be a writer, just not the kind of disruptive genius like Bob Dylan (another Type 4 like Dostoevsky).

I was not a Type 4. The reality was (according to the Enneagram) that I did not have the built-in characteristics possessed by my artist heroes which drove them to inevitably create great art. Is this the potential “harm” mentioned in the Christianity Today article? The reality of who I was was different from who I thought I was. Or worse, my nature was not what it needed to be to acheive my dreams.

“Like every tool, a popular self-assessment test known as the Enneagram has the capacity to heal or to harm, depending on how it’s used.”
— John Starke, “An Evangelical’s Guide to the Enneagram”

Another conservative publication has a similar sentiment.

“And yet, on the whole, The Road Back to You is bound to be more harmful than helpful”
Kevin DeYoung,Enneagram: The Road Back to You, Or to Somewhere Else?

The writers of The Road Back to You anticipated this reaction. The book starts with a story about Brother Dave who is a wise old monk that endorses the Enneagram as tool for understanding self.

“It’s full of wisdom for people who want to get out of their own way and become who they were created to be.”
Brother Dave in The Road Back to You

How could a 70-year-old Benedictine monk lead us astray? This book then is just a telling of the author’s own experience with the wise and learned. It goes without saying that we will all listen attentively to Brother Dave.

But at a quick glance, this wisdom does seem like something we all need as humans. We need to “be who we are created to be” and if we understand what is stopping us, then we can “get out of our own way.”

Now here is where I get off course a bit, but bear with me. As one reads this first chapter and comes across this sentence, the phrase “get out of your own way” brings to mind a recent U2 song. What does this have to do with anything? Well, it turns out the band’s own guitarist referred to as “Edge” is also a fan of the Enneagram. Note the Instagram post screenshot below.

This is typical of U2 to be cryptic, but someone was paying attention and noticed that he was referring to dolphins as fellow Enneagram Type 9s. Edge considers himself the same personality type as these beautiful mammals.

If you haven’t guessed yet, this author also identifies as a Type 9. Good to know I now have a personality buddy in dolphins and Edge. No connection with Bob Dylan, but I’ll take what I can get.

And I’ll remind us all the “get out of your own way” phrase is generally good advice and especially good advice for artists.

“… the most important thing a creative person must know how to do — which, for lack of a better phrase, is just to get out of his or her own way”
— Dennis Palumbo, Psychology Today, “Getting Out of Your Own Way”

The band U2 is caught by the current popularity wave of the Enneagram. These dolphins in the Instagram video may also be riding the wave of the Enneagram? Should you? Will the Enneagram help you get out of your own way?

Conclusion

Catholic monks teach the Enneagram as a spiritual growth system leading us to the path of self-discovery. Evangelicals are embracing this tool as of late thanks to IVPress book making its way into the hands of church-going soccer moms. Generally conservative thinkers warn that the tool also has potential to harm — proceed with caution. My own harm was experienced as a temporary setback in artistic dreams. There may be other avenues for harm. I’m pretty sure others are not excited or impressed when I tell them I have them all figured out — it’s definitely something to dial back.

As as Type 9, I have the special ability to see both sides of the “good or not-so-good” discussion. I’ll let you make your own judgement and I expect that U2’s endorsement tips the scales. For our part, we’re returning the book on the topic to the library. I’m guessing our copy of The Road Back to You stays on the bottom shelf of the coffee table for a good number of months. I’m also planning to wind down on the internet research time. The issue now is should I show the following image (I just found on #enneagram) to my wife? What do you think?