Fast Food Metaphor

Without due respect to the fast food industry, it does offer an unappetizing metaphor for our Enneagram styles. We keep our bad habits, our compulsions, our cherished neuroses for good reasons. We don't suffer from the consequences of our compulsions, depressions, fears, rages and confusions unless there is something in it for us. And nobody puts up with the grease, narrow selection, expense and taste of fast food unless there is something in it for them. I suggest fast foods and Enneagram styles have a lot in common and the fast food business offers a helpful metaphor to understand our Enneagram styles.

Life is a banquet, but we eat the local greasery because it is convenient. We also do our Enneagram strategy because it is convenient. If we habitually react out of fear (Five, Six, Seven) we don't have to look at every aspect of the situation, just the scary parts. Our attention focus is a habit, and as a habit it comes easily, we know how to do it, we do it well and it gives us the illusion that we know what's going on. Sure beats paying attention to everything. (The English tongue betrays our conviction that attention costs us. We pay in energy and egotism. To pay clear-eyed, objective, unfiltered attention is psychically strenuous and requires that we set aside cherished conclusions reached by short-circuit habits).

Fast food and our Enneagram style make the world predictable. When you go to a fast food place, you know what you'll get. And when we act out of our Enneagram style, we know what we'll get. Threes know they'll have to perform, Nines know that too much effort will be required and Sixes know the situation will be frightening. We like a predictable world. I want my computer to write English, my car to burn gasoline and the traffic lights to alternate reassuringly when I confront them. An unpredictable life/world is strenuous and exciting. We can repeat the Chinese curse "May you live in exciting times," because we really prefer predictability to excitement.

Fast food and our Enneagram style cut down our choices. We don't have to decide how to react. We default to our Enneagram response: anger, fear, etc. So our Enneagram style is efficient. If life offers us a new situation, we react the way we did to the old one. By eliminating a lot of thinking, reflecting, discerning, savoring (tasting) life, we just do what we did before. "Dance with the guy who brung you" is the Country & Western expression, in the corporate world they call it "going with the track record." If Schwartz was a winner three years in a row, let's go with him this year.

Therapists have their own little pithy advice on this matter. "If you keep doing what you're doing, you're going to keep getting what you're getting." The message, hard to hear in our Enneagram trance, is that we are crazy if we think we can change consequences without changing behavior. Our Enneagram trance limits our behavior choices, much as MickyD limits our food choices to a dozen menu items, the same ones they offered the last time we were in.

Fast food and our Enneagram style standardize. Many people resent having an Enneagram number pinned on them (if you have an Enneagram meeting, don't get cute and put an Enneagram number on the name tag. I've seen it done. That's awful.) People resent it because they feel "in a box." In a box means they are constricted. The purpose of studying and working with the Enneagram is precisely to make you aware of your real box and then try to find a way out. Standardization and constriction have a lot in common. The more closely we identify with our Enneagram number, the less inner freedom we have. Some lost souls use the Enneagram as an identity. That's an emotional disaster. People use all sorts of categories as identities, (sports fan, patriot, name-brand wearer) but that mental habit flattens and standardizes us. But our Enneagram style, to the extent it has us in its grip, does exactly that, it makes us like all other Twos or Fives. Our Enneagram style is what we have in common, our personality is what only we have.

I think a lot of folks go to fast food when they don't have the time, energy, money or imagination to cook or eat at a fine restaurant. It's convenient. You're reading this off a computer. Fast food and our Enneagram style are both like a default position on the computer. If we don't think, if we don't address the situation with all the adult resources we can command, we just react out of our Enneagram style. Life is a banquet, but we feel, for a whole battery of reasons, that we live in a world of scarcity. (When I wrote Parables and the Enneagram, I discovered that every "Kingdom of God" parable was a metaphor of abundance, while every Enneagram style is a conviction that life is a struggle in an arena of scarcity. Our Enneagram styles are nine ways of trying too hard to get the world to love us). Convenience is harnessed to scarcity. We don't feel we have the time to shop at a big store or eat at a big restaurant or have the energy to cook. So we, out of a conviction of scarcity, eat fast food. And act out of our Enneagram style.

So relax, loosen your grip on your style and dine at the banquet of life.

    Discussion questions

  1. What are three good reasons you keep your Enneagram style?
  2. What one repeated behavior gets you into trouble? What's in it for you? Can you get that in any other way?
  3. We watch TV to see what we've seen before. (That's what they call their formula). If you were a TV star, what would people watch for?
  4. 4) What are you most short of? How do you manage to keep the abundance out of your life? What does that shortage excuse you from?


  1. Read one book in an area you've never touched before. (Unless you're a Seven, then reread in depth a favorite).
  2. Keep an emotional journal for a month. Then go back, read the journal and keep a close tally on what emotional reactions you had to most events. Evaluate your range of responses.
  3. Boredom is a clear indicator of psychic degeneration. Monitor your levels of boredom, either by journal, checkbook or TV log (we shop/eat/watch TV for boredom alleviation).