In all honesty, I don’t even remember how the whole thing came up over whiskey, chips and pizza with two girlfriends the other night, but somehow the conversation turned to the Enneagram of all things (not a huge surprise among three theology/ministry students). I didn’t know much about it, other than that it sounded a lot like New Age hoo-ha, so I shouted “I don’t believe in that crap!” just after my two friends declared “You’re an eight”.
Not dissuaded by my skepticism, one went to the bookshelf and got a binder and opened it to the section on “Eights”. “Often were unruly children” – we all giggled, since I had just finished alluding to how rotten I was to my high school teachers. “Blunt, direct, aggressive. Tends toward leadership when doing well, toward bullying when not doing well.” Hmmm…I thought. Perhaps my skepticism was unfounded. “First reaction to things is often negative”. I was suddenly very glad I was among people with whom I could laugh at myself, because if you recall from the first paragraph, my first reaction to the whole Enneagram business was bluntly and unthinkingly negative.
This is not a surprise to me. I have never had a sunny personality. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I was uniformly negative, so much so that I am astonished that I have any friends from that time in my life. But I am a firm believer that it’s only good to have bullying tendencies if you often turn them on yourself (see: To reach the goal is nothing else but the will to go – I think Augustine was an eight), and I fight like crazy to be positive as often as I can.
Being negative is intoxicating – it means you are constantly asserting yourself over the world. Everything you can think of and imagine is better than what is actually there. Nothing can meet your superior expectations. The world is beneath you.
Even more fun than uniform negativity is the “good is not good because it is not something else that is also good” game. Studying liturgy is bad because it is not studying ethics. Being a minister is bad because it is not being a doctor. Working with people who are addicted is bad because it is not working at a soup kitchen. And on and on, and this game is delightful because no one can ever do all the good things we can imagine, so we can always be critical of the small but valiant efforts others are making to improve the world. We can be hopeful, or we can despair.
You can find something to be positive about if you look for it, and maybe if we look hard enough our gaze can transform things into something better. It is more work for some of us than for others.
In the long run, I think we’re going to find what we’re looking for. Looking through a negative or positive lens not only changes what we see but might change what is already there. I’m willing myself to see what’s good, to relax into the best in life rather than constantly railing against it. Maybe I should be complaining, but there seem to be plenty of people ready to do that work for me. Instead I will keep bullying myself to be better than I am, to look at the world first as graced rather than as broken.
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