“All models are approximations. Essentially all models are wrong [as in not necessarily true] but some are useful.”
George Box, a British academic and statistician, and the author of this provocative statement
When it comes to the Enneagram, which is itself a model, how do we know if or what parts of the model are true enough, relatively true or not true at all? In addition, consider this question: can a model not be true but still be useful?
When I explore any model, theory or even belief system, I ask myself these questions:
Is it true? How do I know it is true? How can I verify whether or not it is true? What else could be true [or truer, given that all models and theories are approximations of reality)?
Is it useful? How is it useful? How is it not useful?
Why do people often not ask these questions? There are several reasons. It takes some rigor in thinking to pursue these questions in depth. Perhaps we’ve heard something from a source we consider to be an authority on the subject. It could be a case of wanting to believe something to be true. Another reason is that it is a belief that we’ve had or heard for such a long time, it’s better, we think, to believe than to doubt or question. We may even think it is true because we think something is true, then seek out or interpret what we observe or experience in a selective way to confirm what we already thought. This is called confirmation bias, which Mario Sikora has written about extensively.
What about wings? Are they true and useful? I’ve come to think that wings are not really true as I first learned them (see prior blogs) but may be true enough in other ways and as such, are useful in understanding ourselves and the system.
To further explore the idea of true and useful, here’s another example of an Enneagram belief/theory. When I was entering the Enneagram community in the mid-1990s, the belief was that you could not and should not type anyone under 50 years old, with 40 being the absolute lowest age. The reasons (evidence?) given were that until people reached that age, they did not have the insight or perspective to type themselves accurately. The next prevailing belief was that it was psychologically harmful to type younger people, particularly adolescents, because it would, somehow, constrict their development and growth into adulthood.
I personally never believed this because I had a young son who typed himself easily on Winnie the Pooh videos. In addition, I knew many other Enneagram-knowledgeable people whose children knew their types accurately. As a result, I did not think this prevailing belief about age was either true or useful.
In the early 2000s, Judith Searle and I co-chaired the International Enneagram Conference and created a controversial and quite spectacular endnote. We had David Daniels artfully facilitate a panel of 9 children between the ages of 10-13. The panelists, one of each type, already knew their Enneagram types. The endnote was well-attended, wonderfully received, and it broke open the theory and practice, the model and theory, that you had to be into middle age before you could and should learn the Enneagram.
So what else in the Enneagram deserves a second look and deeper examination? What is true and what is useful? Can some theories or models be not necessarily true but useful in some important way? Can some models and theories that may be more true, not be useful? Should we even teach them and study them?
Here are two more areas to consider and why. Are they true and are they useful?
Do we go to one arrow under stress and another under relaxation or security? Do we develop going one arrow versus the other? What about the arrows for our integration and disintegration?
Here’s more…Are the arrows on the central Enneagram triangle (3-6-9) actually there and/or pointing in the right direction? Patrick O’Leary told me that when the Chicago Jesuit group got the Enneagram materials from Claudio via Fr. Ochs, there were no arrows on the central triangle. Patrick said the Jesuit group experimented for several years with these questions: No arrows? Arrows in which direction? Arrows in both directions? The Jesuits, according to Patrick, placed the 3-6-9 arrows as we currently use them. And when I google Enneagram symbols prior to 1970, the symbols had arrows but not on 3-6-9.
What is true?
What is useful?
Instincts (not meaning subtypes, but simply the three basic instincts)
Google basic human instincts and you’ll find a variety of answers from two instincts to multiple instincts (even 11 or more). References to three basic instincts seem to be closely associated with Enneagram references, but what if there are more than three? One site associated what we refer to as self-preserving and sexual instincts directly to Freud (not the social instinct), but humans have been around far longer than Freud!
What is true?
What is useful?
My intention in these blogs
My intention is not to act as if I know the answers to the questions I raise in the blogs. It is to arouse curiosity, to get the thinking going, and to generate the conversation!
Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, author of nine Enneagram books, is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. She provides certification programs and training tools for business professionals around the world who want to bring the Enneagram into organizations with high-impact business applications. TheEnneagramInBusiness.com | firstname.lastname@example.org