The Enneagram’s Call to Civility

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Much of Twitter—at least, the trending hashtags—has become a dumpster fire, fed by the steady lighter fluid stream of people’s anger and frustration. The things people are willing to say to each other continue to stun me. Having studied the Enneagram for more than 15 years still doesn’t prepare me for the vitriol I see on a daily basis. How have we become so uncivil?

I don’t know how exactly this occurred. Perhaps the distance and relative anonymity of social media make people feel like it’s safer to say such things, to treat their fellow human beings with such contempt without getting punched in the face. Perhaps we’ve always been this horrible but didn’t have an easy platform on which to display it before. I will have to leave it to the social scientists to sort that out. But I heard this phrase the other day from a cultural pundit, and I immediately knew it to be true: “We no longer live in a civil society.”

It’s a chilling and sad realization. How can there be any actual conversation in a world where everyone just yells at each other? I don’t know how to be in a world like this. It feels like my paradigm for interaction has been invalidated. What’s to be done?

A few days ago, someone I follow on Twitter responded to a person’s ridiculous statement by calling the person a creative yet very unkind name. I responded to the tweeter this way, “I would use other words, but yes.” Then one of his followers chided me for that response, doubting my ability to come up with a better, more creative insult. My response? “I’m just trying to love everybody in the midst of the craziness.”

Both the person I follow and his follower liked my comment. Isn’t that interesting? It was like, “Oh, yah, maybe social media isn’t an insult competition.” It almost felt like a moment of grace, a holy pause.

And that’s really what I’m trying to do: love everybody in the midst of the craziness. That is a sort of miracle, which I ascribe first to work of the Gospel in my heart and second to the Enneagram. Because I used to be fully confident of all my opinions, political stances and religious views. And equally self-justified in speaking them out, regardless of whether they hurt people or not. Right is right, right?

Well, I keep coming back to the wise words I learned from Russ Hudson, co-founder of the Enneagram Institute: The cost of being right is love. The longer I live on this earth, the less willing I am to pay that price. I want to walk on this earth in the love and wisdom that Jesus displayed. Yes, sometimes he said hard things to Pharisees, but he said those things out of love for them, not from a place of “rightness,” of moral superiority.

Knowing the Enneagram helps me understand that, at least in many of life’s arguments, there is no one clear-cut answer. There are, at baseline, nine ways of focusing attention and looking at things. Then throw in wings and instinct stacks and Levels of Development, and it’s a wonder that more people don’t get in fist fights!

The Enneagram expands my ability to be compassionate, both to myself and to others. And the love of God so captivates my soul that I want to extend that kind of love to others. If all humans are made in the image of God and dearly beloved by him, and all dealing with their own personality filters: A) How can I assume I am always right? B) How can I assume they are wrong if they don’t agree with me? C) Why would I want to treat them with anything less than the divine love that has been extended to me?

So, what are we to do about living in a post-civil society? Dr. Jordan Peterson says this, essentially: societal transformation must start at the level of the individual. He’s famous for saying, “Clean your room!” – which means, “Put your own house in order before you try to fix the world’s problems.”

This reminds me, of course, of Jesus’ admonition to take the log out of your own eye first, and then help take the sliver out of your neighbor’s eye. God’s work in our hearts helps to create the desire for self-examination and for love of one’s neighbor. The Enneagram is a tool toward those twin goals.

It’s a tool that is amazingly astute at helping us break through our particular personality filters so that we can see our own biases more clearly. We read the Bible and interact with God, for the most part, from that filter. The Enneagram is the objective third party that, like a skilled therapist, helps us see our own cognitive errors, assumptions and prejudices. That’s why I recommend and teach this tool and will continue to advocate for its use among Christians.

The Enneagram, through its judgement-free observation of the self and the compassion that results, calls each of us back to civility. As more and more individuals become closer to their true selves, less defended and defensive, there won’t be nearly as much yelling – either on social media or in real life. One person at a time, one heart at a time, civility replaces incivility. That is how society gets transformed.

That’s what I’m working toward. I hope you are, too.

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