The Enneagram Broke Me
My mother hates messes. If our rooms got too untidy, she would actually offer to help us clean up. This is not as wonderful as it sounds. I would hurriedly stuff things away as she would throw everything on the floor into one box, hair bands, toys, desk supplies and random socks (I hope they were clean). I hated it.
I took the Myers-Briggs personality test in college and could finally vocalize why our cleaning styles were so different. My mom appreciates neatness. I value organization.
The M-B test was not my first foray into individual psychology. I’d read books on birth order in high school. The idea that human beings can be typed, categorized, explained fascinated me. I’m not going to argue the validity of these tests and their findings. What mattered is that I felt I understood myself and others better.
If a personality test existed, I would take it.
I’ve also done spiritual temperament tests where personalities are symbolized by cute animals, the DISC personality tests, the StrengthsFinders test. Each one reached into my psyche to explain things about myself I never would have put into words. Well, okay, let’s be honest, they all told me the same thing. I just liked the repackaging.
Discovering I was an introvert gave me a structural framework for my life and also allowed me to spam my social media accounts with all the introvert memes. Finally, it seemed that the misunderstood introvert got their day in the sun.
Eventually the Great Introvert Wave of the Aughts crested and I felt washed ashore.
If they design a test that determines where bad metaphors come from, I’ll definitely need to take that one. But otherwise, no more tests.
Because the enneagram broke me.
I heard about the enneagram when it became popular a few years ago. People were saying they were a nine or a four and how that explained their motivations so much. At a lunch once with co-workers, I sat virtually silent for ten minutes as they discussed their enneagram numbers and laughed at the enneagram memes they shared around the table. Live by the meme, die by the meme, I guess.
In a weird, very weird, personal abdication of all I hold dear, I did not take the enneagram test. For many months. Years. In fact, to this day, I still have not. The idea of it mentally and emotionally wearies me. But I had begun to feel weary even before the enneagram came out. In fact, it started during the heyday of the articles on Introversion vs Extraversion that filled my social media feed.
Rest is important. Healthy boundaries are important, but what had started as a means of understanding people had become a toxic and psychological sounding way to disengage. We used to use the term “busy” to let people know why we hadn’t gotten together with our myriad of acquaintances. “Oh, I’m just so busy these days.”
Now it’s, “I just need to recharge.”
Recharge? We set out to understand humans and turned ourselves into calculating machines.
But eventually, you can only know so much. Eventually, you have to do. The action of sacrificing our own comforts for another’s benefit is an act of will and love. It’s wisdom, not knowledge. Interacting with honesty and graciousness with our friends, family, co-workers is the answer regardless of communication style.
All the personality/motivation/communication tests feel like glittery distractions of a society trying to cover our lack of community. Our motivations are often selfish, and there are only so many ways that we can repackage the truth that we are all looking out for ourselves and our own comforts and our preferences.
Once we’re allowed to mingle again, we have to put down our books and tests and realize that the people across the dinner table from us, in the cubicles next door, on social media (yikes!) are people, not acronyms. Not numbers. People who want to know they are valued, that they matter, that on their bad days we will grant them forgiveness, on their good days, we will be proud of them.
In this time of COVID-19, the introvert memes are once again finding their day in the sun. I still laugh along with them. Still, even for an introverted homebody who likes quiet, solitary pursuits, I’m finding that social distancing is more difficult than my Myers-Briggs test led me to believe. Weirdly, I miss people.
We can find patterns, similarities, and generalizations in all of us. The wondrous, frustrating and fascinating thing about humans, though, is not that we can be categorized, but that we often can’t. We continue to surprise and be surprised by humanity.
One glorious, disorganized, mess of people, all mixed together in this one great big box called earth.