Models of the Universe

What if you were waiting at your favorite watering hole for a new acquaintance you were hoping to get to know better. He arrives 10 minutes late and apologizes profusely saying he couldn't find a parking place because a large dinosaur was blocking the last three.

He says this with utter sincerity. You stare at him in equal utter disbelief. He doesn't notice and you begin an ordinary conversation about the weather, sports, and politics. When the topic turns to the economy he says calmly, "Well, I just couldn't make ends meet, so I had to sell thee of my four children." We're doing a lot better. I miss them, but I just couldn't afford them. The eldest brought a good price."

He then begins to talk about the stock market and has some good insights. He talks about the movies and his tastes are similar to yours. Then he asks if you would be interested in working with him in a political campaign. He is going to work for the return of George Bush. It is his newest passion.

That's the last straw. You decide he lives in a different world and you two will never be friends. He clearly has a wrong and bad Enneagram style.

I exaggerate only a bit for the sake of clarity. We all operate out of a model of the universe. Nobody sees all of reality, and what we do see we see through a set of inherited and learned filters. What we perceive we reconstruct inside of ourselves. We construct a model of the world. This model is very helpful. It enables us to predict what will happen. That way we don't touch hot stoves, eat yellow snow or vote for Bush. Certain things are possible, others are not. If I say I saw a dinosaur - seriously - you become angry. Why? Because you know that's not possible. One of us is crazy or lying. You simply can't live with a belief in dinosaurs walking around today. Isaac Asimov, the great Science Fiction writer said the formula for a great story was "One thing must not happen, cannot happen and is now happening." In other words, your model of the universe isn't working and that strikes terror into all of us. Our model has to work or we go crazy.

We also create a moral universe. In your world, you never never sell your children. (Beat them, perhaps, but.) That is morally unthinkable. And as for campaigning for Bush, that's marginal but does point to membership on another planet.

What Is Real

We cannot function without a model of the universe. We need predictability. We need order. We are not intellectually, morally, emotionally large enough to see all points of all reality, so we do the best we can. We learn from experience, we say. What do we learn? We learn how the world works, what's true, what's good, and above all, what's real. To the extent we don't know that, we are helpless, (we don't know what will work), confused, (we don't know what is true), immoral (we don't know right from wrong) and crazy (we can't distinguish what's real and what is "just in my head.")

Our Enneagram descriptions are a brilliant attempt to sketch some of the parameters of nine models of the universe. When we conflict with someone, it is often because we disagree about what is real. You'll often hear people say, "Well, the reality is." or "What's really going on here," and when you hear that, you know you have a clash of models. Most arguments are about what is real. To say, "the reality is," is to beg the question. To argue in a court, saying, "This man is a thief, he should be punished for taking this woman's purse," is circular and assumes what remains to be proven. The point of the trial is to establish that he is a thief, you can't start with that assumption. But our Enneagram style starts with assumptions. We assume we know reality. One lovely byproduct of studying the Enneagram is to weaken our arrogance about knowing what's what.

A clearer Enneagram example might help. One night, three people are sitting in their living room talking. A loud noise occurs outside. The Six, upon hearing the crash, "knows" something dreadful has happened. An Eight feels an obligation to make whoever did that crash pay for it. A Seven is pretty sure it is the dog chasing a cat and hitting the trash barrel. No big deal. A whole play could be written about the argument inside. The Six warns her Seven (12 year old) son to be careful, the Eight considers the other two slackers for not going after who did it and the son is wondering why they're always bickering.

This not much ado about nothing. Our models of the universe work quite well for us. We can't just give them up. We can't accept selling children or our family life will never be the same. Our model protects us, it explains why things work this way, it defines what is valuable, beautiful and true. It is our understanding of what is real. If you don't protect a Six from the dangers he knows are in the world, he will be frightened and ultimately quite angry. Your disbelief in those dangers makes him all the angrier because you are seen to be not caring. Your ignoring public opinion will infuriate a Three because you have taken away her way of knowing "what will sell," and what will guarantee success. To work hard and not know what will work is pointless and stupid.

This is one reason change is so difficult. A lot of personal change involves adjusting our model of the world. It can be an earthquake.