Since my time in Brasilia, I have been mostly reflecting on the concept of evil: What is evil, are corporations evil, are leaders and consultants who work with them evil? I always do that: I reflect on things said even if I don’t agree with them at the time, just to see what’s inside me on that topic that I may not be considering.
Not so long ago (12 years ago to be exact), I didn’t think too much about evil because my mindset was more like this: human beings come into this world neither good nor evil, so if people do “bad” things, there is something where they got distorted early-on. This mind-set is very Twoish, a distortion of reality. Then, a friend of mine who had recently married, then soon divorced, told me that her husband was evil. However, when she shared what she thought was evil about him, nothing she said seemed evil to me. Just to give you a flavor of her comments, she had waited a long time to get married and expected she would marry a highly spiritual person who would engage with her in a spiritually-based marriage. Her complaint was that he was rather common and boring, and that he had deeply disappointed her; hence, he was evil because she was so miserable being married to him.
I realized that I knew very little about evil and the above example didn’t give me much insight into the nature of it because his behavior did not seem evil by any definition I could find. I began reading “A Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck, and a particular section of the book grabbed my attention. Peck says that western society has relegated evil versus good to the religious domains, with secular society absenting itself with evil even when it is there. He also says (and this idea I have kept with me forever) that some people appear “evil,” but are not, while others appear “good,” but are not. His example is a serial killer, some of whom are evil and some of whom are not. Similarly, he speaks of people who appear to be doing good in the world but are fundamentally not so. His differentiating remark, that which distinguishes someone who is “good” from another who is “evil,” is this: does the person eat away (“nibble”) at the soul of others in order to feel good or satisfied themselves? This has been helpful when I work with people whose parents were just not very good parents, versus those whose parents took pleasure (conscious or unconscious) in nibbling at the souls of their young.
So when the idea of “evil” came at me in Brasilia with an energy that was hot and cold in alternating waves, I took notice, recognizing that if I had not been really centered, the energy could have easily knocked me over. Since that time, I have been wondering about the “organizations as evil” idea. Directly after Brasilia, I went to San Francisco to do a day’s work with an existing client, a leader, who I hadn’t seen in a year. Throughout the day, I wondered this: Is he evil and I don’t see it? Right in front of me was a man who was using the Enneagram so well for his own development and his team’s that there was goodness emanating every moment from both him and the group. They were thrilled to have someone as honest, transparent, trustworthy, and real as their leader; without exception, the team was clearly effective and had high, high integrity.
This made me even more sure of what I had been thinking about from my experience in Brasilia. The categorical and absolute use of the word “evil” to describe each and every organization (and leader) felt like a projection of a major order. Maybe that’s why I didn’t take it personally, either at the time or later on.
Since then, my mind has been wandering to the nature and importance of projections in general, Enneagram projections in particular, and also projections within psychological or spiritual communities (even religious groups). As a Gestalt-trained professional, I am well-versed in the notion that we all project, especially those attributes that are true about ourselves and that we, for a variety of reasons, don’t want to accept about ourselves (the Gestalt term is “own”). For the most part, these projected qualities are ones we perceive as negative, but can also be attributes we admire (and therefore perceive in others but not in ourselves). For integration and wholeness, it is essential we “re-own” these projected items.
In Enneagram terms, each ennea-type projects qualities onto others that do not conform to their self-concept and always labels these as negative. Jerry Wagner, in his new book “Nine Lenses on the World,” does a comprehensive job of identifying these type-based projections. For example, Twos perceive themselves as “the loving person,” so they project selfishness onto others, but the problem is Twos end up believing that “self-care,” which they dearly need, is “selfish.” Nines project “pushiness” onto others and then hinder their own assertiveness and leadership ability in the process.
Each Enneagram style also becomes an easy target for certain kinds of projections by others, akin to a fly to flypaper. For example, Ones get projected on as a critical parent, Fours get overly-emotional projections, and Eights get projections of power. Groups also get projections from others. Women get projections that are different from men, even though many women and men do not fit these stereotypes. The same is true for racial groups. We call this stereotyping — they are fundamentally group-level projections.
Now to social orders, psychological affinity groups, and spiritual or religious orders; how many times do we hear this: We are good; they are bad. We are going to heaven, and the rest will go elsewhere. We are the true school of the Enneagram (or any psychological or spiritual school), while the others teach falsehoods. With all projections – whether individual to individual or group to group – the projection hurts the target of the projection, which is either the intention of the projection or an unintended, but predictable, consequence. Ultimately, however, the projection hurts the projector even more than the target, keeping them from the truth about themselves.
Gema de la Rosa, my colleague and friend from Spain, sent me this quote from Richard Rohr on the projection of evil:
“Once you have learned to discern the disguised nature of evil, you will be able to recognize that both perfection and imperfection are everywhere—everything is broken and fallen: weak and poor, you and me, your marriage, your children… Now you can start accepting things in their broken, faulty state. You will not be so constantly disappointed, and think people have let you down because they are not perfect. Nor do you have to wait for things to be perfect to fall in love with them…. When you see things non-dually, in their wholeness, and do not split between the false “totally good” and “totally bad,” you will grow up spiritually and begin to live honestly and wisely in this world.”
– Richard Rohr