If you know me at all you know that I am pretty obsessed with personality typing. I often catch myself talking to others about their Myers Briggs or Enneagram type. Sometimes, I confess, I take it a little too far and have to remind myself (or more accurately my wife reminds me) that there is more to the person than their personality type.
Some people believe that personality typing places people inside a box, but I have found that it actually exposes the boxes I put myself in and gives me ways to get out of the box – this is especially true of the Enneagram. Here are two ways that understanding personality has helped me grow.
- It brings compassion.
I heard someone talk about the Enneagram recently as a tool that increases your compassion toward others because you begin to understand that other people don’t think like you. I cannot tell you how many “discussions” (ok sometimes they are more than “discussion”) my wife and I have had concerning trite things like toothpaste, where something belongs, or how to go about cleaning the bathrooms. While at the time they always seem important, they are usually very small things, and they often reflect how we see the world differently. In hindsight I can see that our approaches differ because we have different personalities – thank God!
For example, I am an idealist who lives in my head and dreams of the future. My wife lives in the here and now (something that takes me a lot of practices to do and thus a trait I greatly admire) and takes the world in through her senses. She is much better at remembering street signs or where a certain grocery store is located. When we drive, I am daydreaming about what someone said, what I heard, what I read, or trying to make connections concerning some theory or model concerning the future of the universe (Yes I somehow tend to avoid collisions as I have only totalled one vehicle). My wife, on the other hand, is taking in all the information that is passing her by in the immediate “here and now.”
I also dislike (well actually cannot stand!) clutter. If it were up to me, my car would always be washed, waxed, and vacuumed and our house with minimal things inside. For my wife, clutter isn’t near as big of a deal as having fun, making memories, and enjoying whatever the present brings – I wish I were more like her and I am hoping that she will wear off on me.
Understanding that we don’t take in information, we don’t process information, and we don’t make decisions in the same way can bring about greater compassion for your spouse, your parents, your children, your boss, and all your relationships. I heard someone recently say that the different Enneagram types is similar to wearing different glasses – it greatly influences what we see and what we pay attention to. The struggle for me is reminding myself this on a regular basis as I so quickly forget.
2. Others experience/see the sacred differently.
This is one area I have been thinking about (or daydreaming) a lot recently. I often ask people their MBTI or Enneagram and I have noticed that some are more naturally drawn to things like contemplative spirituality while others find it much more difficult and less helpful.
For example, many NFs (particularly INFx’s) are almost mystic by nature. If someone is an Enneagram type four this is also true (and even more pronounced if they are a type 4 and an NF!). Many believe Thomas Merton was a type four and he is often seen as an example for many modern mystics. It is much more difficult for an extrovert (though obviously not impossible) to engage in contemplative practices and if that person is an S (sensing) or a T (thinking) on the MBTI it is even more likely they will find contemplative practices more difficult.
I use contemplative practices as an example because as an INFJ I have found it very helpful, yet my tendency is to think that everyone would benefit from it in the same way I do and thus herald it as the thing.
What I have noticed in myself and in plenty of others is that we tend to think that how we view the world is how others do. As spiritual people we also tend to think that what works best for us may work best for someone else – this often leads to cookie cutter approaches to spirituality. We can see this to be true in many others ways, e.g., exercise, diet, politics, education, parenting, leadership etc. I think we tend to forget that other people see the world differently and an exercise or diet that may work great for me may not work all that well for someone else.
In the end, the more I understanding the different personalities the more it opens me up to see and appreciate diversity – diversity of thoughts, opinions, worldviews, choices etc. I do still struggle, however, often thinking that my own opinions are the correct ones and that since I love yoga everyone should. Yet, I am reminded that while yoga may work well for me, some people just need an intense, high energy workout. While contemplative practices may be a more natural fit and very beneficial for me, others may need a place to serve, a place to share, or loud music to just let it all go. Sometimes I wish my wife saw the world exactly how I do, but would I really want to be married to myself? (just i case there is any question let me answer this clearly…hell no!)
There is beauty in diversity. Diverse foods, people, places, and things. I have much room to grow when it comes to compassion toward others and understanding that others may see and approach the sacred differently than I, but understanding the different personality types has helped me.
Perhaps you feel frustrated because others connect with the divine in a certain way that does not work for you.
Perhaps you found that certain spiritual practices, books, teachings, etc work well for others, but they just don’t work well for you.
Perhaps you wonder if you are odd because you don’t see God the same way that many around you do.
Spiritual formation, while leading us all to greater love and compassion, may look radically differently from person to person. As we better understand that we are all hardwired a little differently, maybe we can have more grace for the way others think and be more open to different ways and approaches to life and spirituality.