The word out there on Singapore’s enneatype has always been, “Singapore is a Type 1, with lots of rules and laws complete with severe punishments!” I’d read about some of these rules: no chewing gum, no graffiti, no spitting, no littering, and more. I’ve heard many people in the Enneagram world compare Singapore to Switzerland, a Type 1 culture.As a bit of a free spirit, I was concerned that in going there I would violate some rule I didn’t know about, receive a big fine or be put in jail, but most of all I was concerned that I might feel tense with so many do’s and don’ts, especially the ones I didn’t know about. My actual experience could not have been further from what I imagined, and I also do not think Singapore is a Type 1 culture.
My experience, from the very start, was entirely different. Yes, Singapore is very clean, but it is one of the most relaxed cities/countries (Singapore is both a city and a country!) I’ve ever visited. Everyone there, from the cab drivers to hotel staff to people on the street, is extremely relaxed and easygoing. This did not match my experience with being in Switzerland which, although a lovely and clean city just as Singapore is extremely clean, Switzerland is not particularly relaxed. In Switzerland, everything and everyone is exactly on time and if you break a rule in Switzerland, which I accidentally did, you get told in no uncertain terms not to do that! This happened to me at the Zurich airport where I made the mistake of taking the plastic container for my belongings at security and was screamed at in Swiss-German, which I didn’t understand, but was told of my error by an English-speaking associate.
What I found in Singapore is that there really are not a lot of rules other than the ones I already knew and that there are very few police around to enforce them. Mostly, I was told, the Singaporeans are self-enforcing and that every rule has a reason. There are a few stories about why no gum chewing in Singapore, but the one I heard most often was that several decades ago, the people who owed money to lenders were putting chewing gum in the lender’s locks to “gum up the works!” What is true about gum in Singapore is that it cannot be sold there, but if you have gum yourself bought outside Singapore, you must dispose of it in a careful way.
The other rules – no graffiti, no spitting, not to litter – all made sense to me. As one Singaporean told me, “These rules make this a very nice and civil place to live. And we have almost no crime!” Personally, I liked these rules. And people are extremely nice there, not effusive, but very nice and willing to help one another when asked. There is also a very interesting mix of cultures: Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian, with additional mixes of British history and ex-pats from a variety of countries. The cultures mix, but also maintain their cultures in terms of food, religion, and language, even though the common language is English.
So what type is Singapore? I asked several people in my Singapore coaching program this very question, and most of them were not sure. But then, one very savvy person in the program said she thought Singapore was a 6 or possibly a 5. What she described was a culture that is friendly and relational on the outside but driven from fear on the inside, with elaborate systems and structures to keep negative things from happening.
After she said this, I began to reflect on my experience there as a culture of enneatype 6 with a 5 wing. Once she said this, these reflections came to my mind:
Use of humor
The group of 30 participants was very, very funny, often making spontaneous jokes about something going on in real time to which everyone laughed. This happened at least once or more per hour. These jokes were either self-deprecating or were about something going on in the environment. One example is that of a participant who was going on holiday to Nepal right after the program with his girlfriend. The entire group was trying to figure out what time he needed to leave the program to get to the airport. When he told us the airline’s name, another participant joked, “Well, they’re never on time anyway so you’ll have plenty of time.”
Conclusion: highly consistent with the ironic, real-time humor of type 6.
Tribal collective orientation
Every time we had a break, all the participants immediately went to the break area and talked with one another in groups, rarely pairs. These groups kept changing in composition throughout the week so that everyone was included, but the groups never got bigger than 8 people and never smaller than 4. From the outside looking in, this was an interesting configuration. Between 4-8 people is the ideal team-tribal size of a group, enough to create a team collective configuration and not too large, thus enabling each member to be heard and seen. Interestingly, the content of discussion was almost always related to the Enneagram and what they were learning in the program.
Conclusion: highly consistent with type 6; this could also suggest type 9, however the content of 9 conversations can be about anything, whereas these conversations were focused more on task and the intellectual content.
Relationship to authority
Throughout the week the group pretty much did exactly what I asked them to do, except come back from breaks (see above), where they were busily engaged with one another and they really didn’t want to stop. From my perspective, it was a high cooperation group overall, one of the highest I’ve encountered in my 9+ years of doing these certification programs. They were very attuned to where I was going, what was needed, and where the group was.
On the 4th day of the program, I was clearly getting sick, so I tried to manage my energy, keep my distance so as not to give anything to them, and to continue on with the program. I did ask Sharon Tan, who was helping with the program, to oversee the last hour, where it wasn’t essential I be there, so I could go to bed! The response from the group to my getting sick amazed me. They turned from I was “in-charge” to taking care of me in every way. That day and the next, I was brought Chinese herbs, a variety of throat lozenges, several immune boosters, an assortment of teas to drink, and two versions of oil to put on my body. I definitely felt it was a 180 degree switch from my taking care of them to their taking care of me. It was awesome.
Conclusion: highly consistent with type 6, especially self-preservation and social subtypes.
I think this participant might be right; Singapore may well be a type 6 country. But what about the possibility of type 5 that she mentioned? One thing I noticed that was very striking (and quite unusual) is that people do not in any way look or stare at one another walking down the street, along corridors, or even in hotel hallways. They don’t look down, either, as if avoiding contact. It’s as if they know the others are there, but everyone is given physical space and no intrusion. The only other place I’ve ever experienced this was in Finland, which is definitely a 5 culture. I loved this aspect of Finland and also enjoyed it in Singapore.
So I’m thinking that 6 (social-self-preservation) with a 5 wing may be spot on! Oh yes, they also have this huge ferris wheel that is very safe, moves extremely slowly, and it is really more for observing the city than for an amusement park ride. You can scan the entire city from your compartment!