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Sunday, June 28th, 2009

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8:52p
Hmmm ...
As I've probably detailed in this space previously, I encountered "The Enneagram" via Gurdjieff's work, which is, I believe, the ultimate source of all the current threads. However, most of what I've seen outside of "Fourth Way" teachings is some sort of half-baked fortune telling system, which has stripped away all the "difficult" parts of Gurdjieff's Enneagram, and left something of questionable use and doubtful validity. An example ... a number of years back I was at a networking event with a speaker, who was talking about how his consulting firm "worked with the Enneagram", and did a presentation of the watered-down variety. After his presentation I asked him "what about the 'outside shocks'?", which are key elements in the Gurdjieff system ... it was clear that this fellow had never heard of the concept, and yet he and his organization were pitching themselves as experts!

So, it is with a certain trepidation that I approach any book on the subject of the Enneagram, as the "signal to noise" is getting more staticky every passing year. Unfortunately, Don Richard Riso's Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types does not disabuse me of the disdain I hold most of the works in this genre. You might well ask why I picked up this book ... and I can only say that it's been sitting around in the "to be read" boxes for nearly 20 years, was a bookclub edition, and probably seemed like a thing I'd enjoy reading back in the days when I could afford to buy books without a lot of discrimination!

In Riso's defense, his approach is not "newspaper horoscope", but neither does it take into account the systemic elements of Enneagram work. He all but admits the failings of this book, begging off on the history of the Enneagram, and on the "abstract theoretical aspects". Rather, he presents this as an expansion, and "practical guide" to the material he published in a previous book, Personality Types.

In this he deals with nine "personality types": 1 - The Reformer, 2 - The Helper, 3 - The Motivator, 4 - The Artist, 5 - The Thinker, 6 - The Loyalist, 7 - The Generalist, 8 - The Leader, and 9 - The Peacemaker. Each of these nine types are subject to "nine levels of development": 1 - Liberation, 2 - Psychological Capacity, 3 - Social Value, 4 - Imbalance, 5 - Interpersonal Control, 6 - Overcompensation, 7 - Violation, 8 - Delusion and Compulsion, and 9 - Pathological Destructiveness. This gives him 81 type/levels to play with in his descriptions. He also talks about "wings", sub-types on either side of one's "type", which (depending on dominance) provide a whole additional layer of combinations to write about. In addition to this there are "misidentifications" where somebody thinks they're one type when they're actually another, and how one type at one level can look like quite another type at some other level. Again, a lot of "stuff" but not necessarily very much "content".

While it ultimately might be on the level of your typical internet meme, the most interesting part of the book was the self-assessment questionnaire which is comprised of 20 "statements" for each of the 9 types, you go through and mark down which of these 180 items you "agree" or "strongly agree" with. Your main "type" should have fifteen or more of these. Interestingly, my results cooperated, with 17 for Type 5, 11 for Type 6, and 9 for Type 4, showing a primary type with its two "wings", while the others ranged from 1-6 (with a mean of 3). This suggests that Riso is perhaps onto something, although having my results pointing to "The Thinker" might be clouding my perceptions.

Again, I believe that Riso is trying to present something of value, but has "lost the key" in following the non-Gurdjieffian versions of the Enneagram work. I kept being frustrated by his "brushing off" the questions of theory, as I would have been more interested in reading about that than the various factors ("Childhood Origins", "Basic Fear", "Basic Desire", "Secondary Motivations", "Healthy Sense of Self", "Hidden Complaint", "Key Defense Mechanisms", "Characteristic Temptation", "Characteristic Vice", "Characteristic Virtue", and "Saving Grace") that he spins out for the various types here.

While I really can't endorse this book, it's also not the worst of its kind, and has its moments. I'd just have preferred reading the book that Riso says he can't write! If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, however, you're in luck as it can be had for cheap ... the Amazon new/used guys have "very good" copies for 1¢ and up, and "new" copies for as little as 58¢ (plus shipping, of course).


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10:33p
Wow ...
Every once in a while I will hit an absolute gem at the dollar store, and this is one of those times. I just finished this, and simply had to write about it before the glow wore off.

Now, I really wasn't familiar with Robert Fulghum, but I'd heard of some of his books (All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, etc.), still I launched into What On Earth Have I Done?: Stories, Observations, and Affirmations with some caution, as I have a low tolerance to both preachy and syrupy books, and this, from the outside, held the possibility of being either or both of those. Fortunately, it was not.

I must admit, there was part of me (that frustrated writer whose sole outlet over the past decade or so has been blog scribblings) which was VERY envious of Fulghum's wandering lifestyle, spending part of the year in Seattle, part of it in Utah, and part of it in Crete (and parts elsewhere at conferences and such), and wondering how one gets to live that way on writing. Obviously, his "hook" is reaching out and touching his readers. Of course, he had a bit of a head start with me, being an older white guy, a UU minister, etc., hitting many trigger points for me to connect with him, but I really feel that his musings would effect other readers as strongly, although possibly for other reasons.

"Musings" is what I saw most of this book as. It appears that he writes (or at least wrote this) in sort of a journal, daily or weekly commentaries on things he thinks of, encounters, or recalls. Everything in it has a bit of a misty, dream-like characteristic, full of details but not hard and sharp in the telling. The book starts with the premise of "Mother Questions", "What on Earth have you done?", "What in the name of God are you doing?", "What will you think of next?", and "Who do you think you are?", which he turns around and asks of himself. I don't know if the rest of his books are as self-reflective as this, but it is a bit like finding a personal journal in a used book store and staring through it into the writer's soul.

From his telling, this Fulghum guy is a bit of a character, a trickster, a dreamer, a big kid, etc., and sounds like the type of guy I'd like to hang out with. He weaves in and out of social situations with a playful eye, being at least reasonably non-judgmental of those who don't care to play along. Perhaps most vividly, he paints a picture of the small town in Crete where he goes to write several months of the year, running off into several sidetracks about the history and personality of the place and people, probably to give a more vivid background for his stories of interactions there. Many of his tales are quite touching, especially the one about a highschool basketball coach, and his "secret weapon" ... which I won't spoil for you just in case you do pick this up!

What On Earth Have I Done? is a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it to all and sundry. What is very strange (to me) is how this ended up in the dollar store. It still seems to be in print (Amazon has it at one of their standard discounts), and my copy even has a price sticker on the back that is more than the cover price of the book ($26.50 for a $22.95 edition) ... it's only been out a year and a half, and yet the new/used guys have "new" copies for as little as 36¢ so you know that something funky must be going on with the publisher. Anyway, if you can find it, get a copy ... I'm not sure I'd pay retail (although I'd hate to take away from the author's travel funds) for this, but it's a real treasure for the used/discontinued rate!


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