We know that we all experience psychologically created polarities. As a Type Six, I experience Duty/Deviance, Type Ones are famous for Right/Wrong, Type Threes Success/Failure, and so forth. It seems, though, that we don’t always experience them so neatly labeled as to exactly parallel the Enneagram literature. And, many of us surely have a hard time coaxing out the right words to describe the polarity experience.
But hold on, we have not talked about Type Sevens yet.
Ginger does a wonderful demonstration of the ability of Type Sevens to come up with inventive options to solve any problem. She will empanel a confederation of Type Sevens and ask the audience, “Who has a problem to solve and needs to think of more options?” All she has to do at that point is stand back and start listening and listing. The audience has to make sure to have extra paper and pens. The number of options generated is amazing.
Not thinking about this Type Seven gift, I simply asked a smart and cooperative Type Seven friend if she could possibly think of one, maybe two, polarities she might have experienced in her lifetime. Here is her response:
- Optimistic / Pessimistic
- Easy-going / Ornery – Difficult
- Expediency-oriented / Meticulous and Careful
- Confident / Unsure
- Pleasing others / Who care’s attitude – Anti-authoritarian
- Compliant – Nice girl / Rebel – Rebellious
- Easily convinced / Skeptical and Doubting
- Avoidant – Non-confrontational / Dealing straight on with the issue- Confrontational
- Messy / Ordered
- Feel smarter than others / Superior / Feel inadequate – Dumber – Not as smart as I should be
- Fun and Amusing to be around / Boring or Plain to others
- Satisfied and Happy / Frustrated and In Touch with what’s difficult-painful about a situation
- Easy-going and Allowing / Controlling and Limiting of others
- Accepting / Judging
- Generous / Stingy
- Spontaneous / Planful
- Productive / Spinning my wheels
- Sure / Unsure
- Quick with decisions / Labor over decisions
- Generating complexity / Craving simplicity
So, we talked. At first, we focused on what might be in the middle of some of the similar polarities. Staying “engaged” kept coming up as the middle option. It began to seem to be a somewhat universal middle option, regardless of polarity and type. For example, as a Type Six, rather than going to my defense mechanism of Projection to avoid feeling Deviant, I could stay Engaged in my almost-Duty. This would definitely be better and more adaptive. A Type One feeling Wrong and going to reaction formation could stay Engaged and find the near Right. The Type Three sensing a Failure could nonetheless stay Engaged and accept the virtues of work well done, if not completely Successful.
So, if there is a universal middle point in polarities, there must be a universal polarity, an uber polarity. Remembering that our polarities, as experienced, tend to follow our type’s Idealization/Avoidance polarity, we arrived at Being Present as the universal Idealization and Selfish Ego as the universal Avoidance. Engagement, though a mere precursor to Presence, may be a good place to focus our attention to stay out of our defense mechanisms. Be Engaging rather than be Defensive.
As one who struggles to stay Present, the more I think about the value of focusing on Engagement, the more I like it. If a polarity downward spiral is getting caught in psychologically created reality – a false reality, staying Engaged (if not fully Present) at least keeps us in the real world. Perhaps, through mere Engagement, while not fully Present, we can nonetheless respond to what life is calling for and not react out of type.
Tom Hattersley came across the Enneagram in the Half Price Books store about four years ago. He has worked in human resources for 40 years, 28 years in large organizations – The Kroger Co., Cintas, and International Paper – and the last 12 years in consulting. He is a partner in a management consulting firm in Cincinnati, responsible for the firm’s HR practice, spending most of his time in executive coaching using The Enneagram In Business methodology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.