A Coin has two sides… - by Nicholas Wai


A couple of friends and I are going to Singapore to attend Dr. Jerry Wagner’s advanced enneagram class in two months. Although we have all studied the personality model (you can read up on enneagram and the nine inter-related personality types here) for many years we feel we have to get up to speed as his take on the subject is informed by his background as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, which adds quite a bit of depth to the understanding of the theory behind than just “typing people”.  To prepare ourselves we’ve thus formed a study group that will meet every two weeks, with the first meeting already held last week.

What I find inpiring and interesting with Dr Jerry’s take on the subject is how he managed to combine his psychology background with the ancient knowledge of enneagram to map out a journey on how we can understand the development of each personality type based on our values and what we hold as ideal, and how in pursuing some of these ideals in lieu of others that we create our preferences and thus personalities. Specifically, we each hold some values to be important for us, such as being industrious, fair, creative, or intelligent. These are all worthwhile ideals in themselves, and there is nothing to stop us from pursuing them all at the same time.

However, we as human beings are very good at focusing and prioritising values and actions that we hold dear, a legacy from our hunter-gatherer time. With this focus and priority instead of holding each ideals with equal regard we develop our likes and dislikes, which in turn informs our behaviours. These preferences, as they are based on ideals, drives us to do many good things for ourselves as well as people around us. Nevertheless, when we pursue our preferences of choice and marginalise or ignore the other ideals, even though we are still working towards an ideal, its preference will at times likely create some less than ideal effects some refer to as the dark side of a particular personality type.

For example, a person with an enneagram type 3 personality is usually described as very goal- and result- oriented in pursuing the ideal of being productive and industrious. This in itself is a very good thing as without someone like a 3 the world may not be moving forward as quickly as it has been. However, when such a person is narrowly focused on such pursuit with only faint regards to the other ideals such as love and fairness, we may see the person manipulating others or cutting corners in order to get his or her ways.

Thus we see the same ideal being a force of good, but if pursued exclusively, can also act as a force of destruction. In the same token however, things we see as hindering us, like being overly careful as in a type 6 person, can be beneficial as times, when being cautious and considerate is being called for, such as in designing a space craft. In coaching, I have incorporated this way of thinking in helping my clients pursue their goals, by supporing them in reframing their perceived weaknesses as context- and degree-dependent strengths, such as for a type 9 person whose ultimate ideal is peace, his or her difficulty in saying “no” could be reframed into a strength in diplomacy when it is called for in mediation or team-collaboration situations. 

The world starts out with many ideals worth pursuing and enneagram is not only about understanding our personalities but also that we do not to uphold some ideals over the other equally worthy ideals, in pursuit of the ultimate goal of becoming a more developed, well-rounded, and at the end compassionate and worthwhile person.