Why did I select the giraffe to represent Enneagram Fours? There are a number of reasons. First, each giraffe is unique, although to the uninformed eye, they may look like every other giraffe. Second, they are extremely awkward animals but, at the same time, graceful and elegant. Third, they tower as tall as the trees, in some way giving them a regal quality that allows them to look over their empires. These and more reasons are offered below.
The giraffe’s name
The name giraffe appears in English from the 16th century on, often in the italinate form giraffa. The species name camelopardalis (camelopard) is derived from its early Roman name, where it was described as having characteristics of both a camel and a leopard. The English word camelopard first appeared in the 14th century and survived in common usage well into the 19th century.Enneagram Commentary: The poor giraffe, so regal and stately, doesn’t even have a name all it’s own. What a dilemma for the giraffe, potentially engaged in a lifelong search for its own identity, just like Enneagram Fours. If you didn’t have your own real name, wouldn’t you be in a continuous search for who you are? The giraffe is potentially destabilized at birth. Names matter!
Giraffes are best known for their very long necks and the striking coat pattern of irregular brown patches on a lighter background. Each giraffe has a pattern of blotches that is unique to that individual, like a human fingerprint. Giraffes have horns unlike any other mammal. They are present at birth as cartilaginous knobs that rapidly ossify. They grow slowly throughout life and are covered with skin and hair.
In addition to these features, the giraffe is noted for its extremely long neck and legs. It stands 5-6 m (16–20 ft) tall and has an average weight of 1,200 kg (2,600 lb) for males and 830 kilograms (1,800 lb) for females. At first glance, giraffes seem ungainly. They are actually not only graceful, but fast and may gallop at 35 mph. Their more characteristic gait is the pace, where both legs on one side move simultaneously as they majestically roam the dry savannahs and open woodlands.
Compared with other ruminants, such as deer and cattle, the giraffe has proportionally larger eyes, with which it can locate food and distant predators from its great height. Giraffes also have color vision, enabling them to recognize each other.
Enneagram Commentary: Giraffes are so Four-like! They are both unique — giraffes with their pattern of skin blotches and skin-covered horns, and Fours with their unique perspective on the world — need to perceive themselves as different, and demonstrate particular ways of behavior in which they try to differentiate themselves. For example, some Fours say purposefully provocative things, others dress in differentiating ways – a streak of purple in the hair, exceedingly somber attire for the social subtype Fours or dramatic dress for the sexual subtype Fours – while still other Fours simply need to declare and hold onto how different they are from others.
Fours also try to catch our attention in some way, just like giraffes do with their height and majesty. Fours may do so by their regal bearing or unique presence or simply by calling out when they have not received the attention or acknowledgment they might want.
Finally, like giraffes, many Fours have highly attuned and refined perceptual capabilities. I’ve heard many Fours describe how they see events in full color: in dreams, in scenario building, and in creative endeavors. Many, many animals do not see in color, just like many of us (non-Fours) may not perceive the world in its full array of color, but rather in just a few colors without much nuance.
While giraffes are usually found in groups, the composition of these groups is more fluid than in other social ungulates. They are a largely transient species with few strong social bonds and aggregations usually disband every few hours, although calving groups can last weeks to months.
Although generally quiet and non-vocal, giraffes have been heard to communicate with various sounds. Courting males will emit loud coughs. Females will call their young by whistling or bellowing. Calves will bleat, moo, or make mewing sounds. In addition, giraffes will grunt, snort, hiss, or make strange flute-like sounds.
Recent research has provided evidence that the giraffes produce infrasound, a sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz or cycles per second, which is far below the “normal” limit of human hearing. The study of such sound waves is sometimes referred to as infrasonics, covering sounds beneath 20 Hz down to 0.001 Hz. This frequency range is utilized for monitoring earthquakes, charting rock and petroleum formations below the earth, and more.
Giraffes are difficult and dangerous prey. They defend themselves with powerful kicks which, when well-placed, can kill a predator.
Enneagram Commentary: Like giraffes, Fours are essentially loners, although they do associate with groups, but at a distance, and their connections are often shorter than longer. Ironically, though Fours thirst for deep and lasting connectivity, fours are often the ones to break the connection. Why? Here are some starters: boredom, fear of abandonment (so they take the first strike), and a desire to not give up their autonomy.
Almost anyone who knows a Four will tell you they are easy to read, in a sense. We may not know exactly what they are feeling or thinking, but their facial expressions, growls and grunts, and even their retracted silence with intense non-audible sounds tells us something is going on.
Arab prophets and poets considered the giraffe the “queen of beasts” for what they saw as its delicate features and fragile form. Eastern sultans prized them as special pets.
Enneagram Commentary: Giraffes may not know they are special, but they are treated as such. Similarly, Fours are, in many ways, delicate and sometimes fragile, a result of their super-sensitivity and tendency to introject negative information about themselves.
Question: What is a giraffe’s favorite joke?
Answer: A tall story.
Enneagram Commentary: Fours do tell “tall” stories, ones that are self-referencing and dramatic.