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Diversity and the enneagram | a provocative topic

Here are highlights from my keynote at the South African Enneagram conference held in Cape Town this past October/November. Dirk Cloete of Integrative Enneagram Solutions, host and conference sponsor, had asked me to provide the keynote on Diversity and the Enneagram, a topic dear to my heart. For many years, one of my specialties as an OD consultant was Diversity, and since I learned the Enneagram in the mid 1990s, I’ve pondered how to integrate the two. In particular, the challenge was this: Is there a way to integrate the Enneagram with Diversity without having the Enneagram be simply a personality system that describes individuals rather than groups and, thereby, detracts from the socio-dynamics of group differences and issues of rank, power, and privilege?

Over the last two decades, I’d figured out that (a) just like race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, culture, nationality and more, our enneatype is another grouping to which we potentially belong that comes with a particular rank or status depending on our environment, and (b) enneatypes come with different levels of rank or privilege, depending on the context. For example, in some families, being 2-like might afford more influence, just as in some organizations such as art organizations, 4-like might be more elevated in rank or 8s and 3s might be given more status in some organizations.

So in my South African keynote speech – well, in reality, it was a combination of speech and interaction – I went for the gold, going directly into a highly sensitive topic which I know from experience can either excite and inspire people or it can do the opposite. The topic can generate defensiveness, even when done even-handedly, and create resistance even upon hearing that the topic will even be discussed. People can head for the doors very quickly which is not a good thing at any time, but especially not after a conference keynote.

For all the above reasons, I prepared thoroughly, although I almost always do, gathered my courage, and took the plunge. And the result was so much better than even my most positive outcomes. People were energized and excited, and throughout the conference, people kept coming up to me saying how they had benefitted from the keynote and that it had made them think and experience something differently. What people learned from the keynote was always different, but ever so meaningful to them. Some said they had never considered what a particular group membership meant to them. Others mentioned a curiosity about why a socio-demographic group to which they actually belong has had so little impact on them. Others referred to intrigue and insights about how their type influenced a particular social grouping that was important to them, while still others had never thought of their own type or that of others conferring differential rank and privilege.

What made this topic so well received? Most likely, the topic is something that the audience, particularly the South African audience, found to be relevant and useful, yet done in a way where no blame or shame was cast. At the same time, I positioned the topic as not just a South African or a U.S. based one, but an area of exploration of global consequence.

After explaining the concepts at a high level, I led spontaneous interviews with three willing participants – Uranio Paes from Brazil (a 5), Julia Kerr from South Africa (a 3) and Anne Isabelle Sam (an 8), originally from France but who has lived all over the world, currently in Singapore – to cover the three Centers of Intelligence, Head, Heart and Body. I essentially asked them which of the diversity dimensions was most central to their self-identity and why, which was least important and why, and how their experience of these aspects of diversity related to their types. The three were brave to spontaneously address these questions in front of a wide audience, yet they set the stage for small group exploratory conversations that followed.

After, I explained the concepts in more detail, then discussed what the notion of rank and privilege is that gets associated with different diversity dimensions. All then engaged in a somatic activity, pushing chairs to the side and stepping forward if a dimension of diversity gave them privilege, stepping back if there was a negative rank associated with it, and remaining in place if the particular dimension was, in their eyes, neutral. Type was also covered as was the degree of having a supportive, nurturing family background. Again, short, exploratory conversations ensued, just enough to get them beyond the starting point.

There was, of course, an ending to the beginning of this new conversation, setting participants forth into the conference with a newer way of experiencing one another. For me, it was the beginning of an integration of two topics near and dear to my heart.

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