The Enneagram Is Not Just for White People | Sojourners

The Enneagram Is Not Just for White People

Decolonizing the Enneagram with Micky ScottBey Jones

The landscape of social change is evolving. While effective activism and spiritual vitality have long been positioned in opposition to one another, today’s social movements are investing greater attention to their interdependence. At this intersection of personal and collective well-being, justice doula and movement chaplain Micky ScottBey Jones holds both deep conviction and embodied wisdom.

Jones’ passion for infusing movements with healing and resilience — as well as the need to sustain her own activism — led her to begin working with the Enneagram of Personality: a system that identifies nine unique ways of being and relating to others. In its common usage as a personality typing system, the Enneagram helps classify and understand different personalities – which often includes creating a profile of common behaviors, emotions, and motivations for each of the nine types.

While Jones has found the Enneagram invaluable, it is not equally accessible to all people. The lack of diverse teachers of the system leaves a critical absence of knowledge. Inspired by her commitment to decolonizing faith and justice, Jones recently launched a fundraising campaign to support her efforts to become an Accredited Professional Enneagram Teacher/Trainer. Sojourners spoke with Jones about this process and why she thinks the Enneagram is an important tool for both personal and social transformation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

David F. Potter, Sojourners: Let's start with your journey into the Enneagram of Personality. How did you discover the teaching and what value has it brought to you personally?

Micky ScottBey Jones: As I started to move more into progressive Christianity, you know, post-Evangelical circles, I met more and more people who would reference this thing called the Enneagram. So, I was of course curious about it. As it became part of the circles I was in, I really did find it to be helpful for understanding myself and understanding the people I love and worked with, but I didn't really understand the depths of the Enneagram of Personality until probably the last couple of years.

The other pieces of it aren’t often taught in the pop culture Enneagram that we're really saturated with now, and honestly the Christianized version that we have. The personality types are really just a tiny, tiny, tiny tip of the iceberg of the Enneagram.

Potter: It seems like the Enneagram has become immensely popular in recent years with a real considerable amount of growing energy and passion around this system, and especially, as you've noted, in many Christian circles. Where is that interest coming from?

Jones: You know, it’s a slow burn. I think once more and more people started reading Richard Rohr’s book [The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective] and now as more people are open to a more contemplative spirituality, that's where the rise is coming. [This] stuff’s been out for a while, it’s not like this has all come out in the last couple years. Then the other places that it's happening is in the middle-of-the-road Christian circles, [who] see it often as, like, a relationship tool, because marriage material is still so popular.

Potter: Yeah, that’s something that’s tangible, you can easily grasp onto that component of it. And as you said, these teachings have been available for quite some time, but it's as though we're just now awakening to them or to the need for them.

Jones: Yeah. I think, unfortunately, the way it has proliferated, it is basically used a lot like MBTI. In some ways, it's seen as a tool, you know, “Here’s your personality type and here's how you're now going to make your life easier” – which is exactly not what the Enneagram is.

It's like, [instead] understand the type that has been built up around you – what we call personality – and understand that you're now being given a map to get back to who you were always supposed to be. The type is just the starting point, it's like the little key that helps you unlock the reality of who you really are.

Potter: You’ve spent several years working at the intersection of justice and contemplative wisdom, and you've written that you're, "obsessed with how to infuse movement communities with healing and resilience." How can the Enneagram be a useful tool for movement building and social transformation?

Jones: Well, I think personal transformation always goes with broader social transformation. Sometimes, I think we ask the question, which needs to come first? But I think they happen at the same time, hopefully. The Enneagram is a tool, I think, that can be used for that personal transformation work that we need to be doing while we’re trying to change the world. In its best form, what the Enneagram does is offer you a way to understand yourself to do the work of actually integrating soul, mind, body, spirit – all of those things.

It allows me to understand myself better and then show up in a different way to this work, because the work is so draining, it’s so traumatizing in so many ways that we have to figure out how to show up in ways that won’t do more damage.

It helps us with that personal transformation and also in organizing for change, because organizing can only happen with other people. We're not singular activists, and if I can realize, "Oh this person is starting from a totally different place,” like, they're not bad, they just literally, completely view the world and how to move in it in a different way. [Realizing that] helps me have grace for them, and grace for myself. I don't have to be wrong, they don't have to be wrong, we just are coming at it from a very different place.

Potter: Right, the more that we do our own healing work by developing compassion and empathy towards ourselves, the more it really empowers us to show up in a way that we can contribute something and work towards wholeness in movements and in the communities we’re seeking to build.

Jones: Yeah. Exactly.

Potter: I’ve been noticing what I would call an Enneagram-fatigue lately. As the Enneagram continues to get more popular it also seems that its common usage is increasingly weaponized, where we use the Enneagram almost as a strategy for managing people and then holding them accountable to a personality profile that they may or may not have consented to in the first place. I'm curious how you think the Enneagram can help us move beyond what you refer to as “disposability politics?”

Jones: I mean, this is why I think we need trained, compassionate teachers of the Enneagram. We need teachers who understand it outside of the Christian context. There’s a big wide world of Enneagram that is way outside of Christendom, and Christians don't have a great reputation [in the broader Enneagram community] because the way Christians have done the Enneagram has been essentially isolated from a lot of the rest of the Enneagram community, as I understand it.

Worldwide, people are talking about the Enneagram and have been for a very, very long time. In fact, the Enneagram of Personality as we know it today was developed by two South American men, so this has never been an American institution. So, I think we need people who are teaching it who will teach it in a different way, that doesn't just feel like labeling, that doesn't just feel like pegging people as a number and then, "Oh now I understand everything about you." I understand why people would get frustrated with it because [those labels] don’t completely ring true to who we actually are.

Potter: It's a very dynamic system, as you’ve said, it's not a static understanding of ourselves…

Jones: There are just so many layers to it. Behavior has nothing to do with the Enneagram. It’s all about motivation. We [often] look at behavior and then want to type people and write them off without understanding their motivation, but if the Enneagram is not pulling you back to compassion for every single person that you're dealing with, then you're using it wrong.

Potter: I want to circle back to this idea of learning the Enneagram in community with one another. As you've noted, when we look at the Christian landscape of the contemplative tradition – in which much of the Christian teaching of the Enneagram sort of comes out of – that landscape is very white. What is the value of adding a critical lens – including race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality – to the Enneagram?

Jones: In some ways it’s like coming to understand the fullness of Christianity and the history of Christianity. In Western culture, we have largely let go of or forgotten about the streams of Christianity that came through Africa and Asia and the richness of those Christianities and the ancientness of those Christianities. And we see the same thing in Christian Enneagram. It’s likely [the Enneagram] originated in some sort of Sufi wisdom – and again when it was rediscovered it came through South America. Then even as it proliferated through the U.S., it was largely passed down orally and in groups, these little groups of people that were studying with a teacher. So, it was never this, like, private, one-on-one, go read a book and figure yourself out. It was always done in groups.

So, I think in some ways we are just returning to that. Which, I’m all about how do we return to the wisdom of the past and get what we can from it and pull that forward as we innovate and as we deal with the unique challenges of today? It’s that principle of Sankofa that I believe in and that I think is wisdom. There's this returning to what has always been, but there's also understanding that if this is something that universally makes sense – and the Enneagram as a whole is much bigger than the Enneagram of Personality, that's a tiny part of it – than it has to be bigger than, you know, just old white dudes. And I think it is.

Potter: Right, if the teaching is isolated to a Western, white context, we're missing out on some of the critical pieces.

Jones: Right, because people, teachers are always going to bring who they are and their own experience, and people who are hearing it are always going to bring who they are and their experience. How we're using [this system] today is fairly young and we are going to have more people play with it and look at what they're seeing, the wisdom they're seeing, and pull forward what they know from their experience and the bodies that they live in. It’s only going to open this up more and help us mine more wisdom from it.

This system looks really different on different people. So, you know the more we have more people of color, more women, more queer folks, anybody working with this as a tool and as a way to understand ourselves and each other, it’s just going to become a more helpful tool for all of us.

Potter: At the core of some of what you've written about this typology there's a theme of discovery. What do you hope people will discover through the Enneagram?

Jones: The first thing that comes to mind is that I hope that people will discover grace for themselves. That has been a huge part of the Enneagram for me, is discovering grace for myself – and I think that leads into discovering grace for each other.

I [also] hope that people will understand the complexity of what makes us who we are – that there are some things that are born into you and there are things that come to you because of environment and experience. All of those make up who you are but they are not a life sentence.

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