Do you know what a wildebeest is? Do you know what it looks like? If you live in Africa (or specifically South Africa), you likely know the answers to these questions. They are actually a type of antelope, a hooved mammal that some of us know as gnus (pronounced ‘news’). But why, then, are they called wildebeests in Africa and why did I select them to symbolize Enneagram Threes?
Wildebeest is Dutch for “wild beast” or “wild cattle” in Africaans (beest = cattle). Afrikaans is a West Germanic language spoken in South Africa and Namibia, a “daughter” language of Dutch that has also incorporated words from Malay, Portuguese, and several other African languages. The Afrikaaners thought that the “gnu” looked like a cattle in the wild.
Enneagram Commentary: Here’s a question often asked of Threes but also by Threes of themselves: Who are you? Just like the wildebeest (or is it gnu?), Threes confuse who they are with how others perceive them. A better way to say this is that Threes confuse who they are with how they want others to perceive them, but take their desired self-perception from their social context.
The wildebeest ranges in color from slate gray to dark brown, with a large black face, shaggy mane, long hairy tail, pointed beard, and body stripes. Clearly distinct are their sharp, curved horns. Color also varies depending on subspecies, gender, and season. They have an extremely sturdy body structure. They can reach 8 feet in length, stand 4.5 feet tall at the shoulders, and can weigh up to 600 pounds. Both males and females have horns. The front end of the body is heavily built, the hindquarters slender, and the legs spindly.
“It looks like it was assembled from spare parts – the forequarters could have come from an ox, the hindquarters from an antelope, and the mane and tail from a horse.”
Enneagram Commentary: Like the wildebeest, Threes become an amalgam of characteristics that may appear to go together but are drawn from a response to their social environment. Known as the chameleons of the Enneagram, Threes shape and then shift from one persona to another depending on their referent group. In addition, Threes are usually study characters, just like wildebeests, and put most of their energy and bulk into their front (upper bodies), similar to wildebeests. Finally, although male and female Threes obviously appear to be male or female, there are striking similarities between the genders in terms of body structure, facial expressions, and more. With other Enneagram styles – for example, Twos, Fours, Sixes, Sevens, and Eights – the physical gender differences are more apparent.
Wildebeest females give birth to a single calf in the middle of the herd, not seeking a secluded place, as do many antelopes. Amazingly, about 80 percent of the calves are born within the same 2- to 3-week period, creating a glut for predators and thus enabling more calves to survive the crucial first few weeks. A calf can stand and run within minutes of birth and keep up with the herd within one week.
Enneagram Commentary: Just like Enneagram Threes, wildebeest babies are “born to run.” Enneagram Threes usually say that they were goal focused and success driven from the earliest age they can remember, almost as if they were born to be on a movement forward. Metaphorically, Enneagram Threes (even more introverted Threes) tend to be more in the public zone rather than away from the public scene from early ages as they strive for accomplishment and recognition of their capabilities.
Wildebeest adult behavior
Wildebeest are noisy, constantly emitting low moans and if disturbed, they snort explosively.
They are known for their annual migration to new pastures, usually beginning their migration in the months of May or June when drought forces them to do so. Continually on the move as they seek favorable supplies of grass and water (even when there is ample food where they are), wildebeest are active both day and night, most often in long single columns. They also cover long distances at a slow rocking gallop but can run fast when necessary.
Major predators feed on wildebeest – the lion, hyena, cheetah, leopard, and crocodile – but wildebeest are very strong and can inflict considerable injury to even a lion, and they have an apparent maximum running speed of around 64 km/h (40 mph).
Enneagram Commentary: Just like the wildebeest, Enneagram Threes let you know they are here, rarely fading into the wallpaper. And when Threes become disturbed – for example, when they believe their time is being wasted, when another is criticizing their work or becoming an obstacle to their goal attainment – Threes (like wildebeest) growl and bark at you. Finally, like the wildebeest, Threes move quickly and often as they search for greener pastures of opportunity. Generally speaking, the Three’s pace is fast and faster, just like the wildebeest.
For all the Threes out there, I want to say that most Threes are much more attractive than the wildebeest. Wildebeest don’t seem to care what they look like!