Less is More

Nines are often difficult to spot because in a certain sense you are looking for an absence. Nines self-erase; they tend to overlook themselves and merge with the agendas of others. They can be humble to a fault at times and can have trouble articulating what they want.

In this movie clip you see two of the most famous Nines in the world, Barack Obama and Jerry Seinfeld. Notice the low key, the emotional ease and lack of pushiness. The slow leisurely pace of the clip is calibrated nicely to fit their personalities. They acknowledge their fame and power, but they don't flaunt it. They listen carefully and don't interrupt.

One of the high sides of Nines emerges in the form of self-deprecating humor. When Obama makes fun of his large ears one can't picture many world leaders in that scene.

Many Nines are powerful. I call it the presidential number: Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Ford, Eisenhower, Lincoln…they're all style Nines. Obama was accused of leading from behind but that was a quarter turn off. He (and most Nines) lead with the group and by means of structure and process. Nines are called negotiators or peacemakers because they have the ability to listen and include a variety of viewpoints. If they can't, they will often not be able to take action. They don't like conflict so if their decision will alienate part of the group, they tend to avoid any action. "Not to decide is to decide" was first spoken by a Nine, I'm sure.

Judith Searle, in her excellent book, "The Literary Enneagram" selected a verse from T. S. Eliot, one of my favorite poets, that describes the modest demeanor of style 9.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

"Do I dare?"

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.


No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant Lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, to start a scene or two

Advise the prince, no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost meticulous—

Almost at times, the fool.

Eliot captures a lot of characteristics of Nines. The willingness to serve modestly, to see himself as part of the whole but not the star, to be a tool of the process – these all feel familiar with Nines. A word might be added about the "a bit obtuse" remark. When Nines go to explain something that is not defined, they can easily become wordy, can ramble for some time, looking for something important but not quite nailing it. Carl Jung is a fine example. Sure, he was brilliant, but his writing (at least in the English translations, to be fair) is verbose, unfocused and terribly in need of several layers of editing. President Eisenhower was a style Nine. His writing and speaking style is so noticeably unfocused and rambling, we college kids referred to it as "Eisenspeak."

Don't confuse a bad writing or speaking style with low intelligence, however. They often think in intuitive "gestalts," and are trying to paint a picture, not create a scaffold. Of incremental steps.

In the movie, Sex, Lies and Videotape, you see Andi McDowell rambling and sounding a bit foolish. She also does something a lot of Nines do – she makes molehills out of mountains. She casually mentions in an offhand way that her sexual relationship with her husband is minimal. On the other hand, she is absolutely brilliant in her intuitive grasp that something is dreadfully wrong. The movie bears out her inchoate grasp of the situation.

Some of Mary Oliver's observations about A Turtle apply to style Nine.

…you think of her patience, her fortitude,

her determination to complete what she was born to do—

she doesn't consider what she was born to do.

She can't see

Herself apart from the rest of the world

Or the world from what she must do.

She doesn't dream

She knows.

Much of American education is unfair to Nines. One of their strongest suits is a fine intuition, but you can go to school for 10 years and never get asked about an intuition – a Nine's bodily knowledge. At the center of the body-based triad, they often have a finely tuned intuitive sense, especially about people. Nines have a great deal to contribute to the mechanical structures of most industrial nation corporations. Corporations view people as machines. People who don't perform are said to be "burned out." Machines burn out, animals don't. Nines can take their bodily (animal) appreciation into the corporate world to make it more hospitable to us animals.

Don't forget the lotophagoi – lotus-eaters --as a lovely metaphor for style Nine. In chapter Nine of Homer's Odyssey, these were the people who put themselves to sleep by eating the lotus plant (poppy seeds?). The effect was that they were in a state of blissful forgetfulness and had to be chained to their stanchions in the ship in order to force them to row onward. Healthy Nines can seem like Zen masters – unperturbed by outward circumstances. But if they are self-erasing, they are more like the lotus eaters.

To update the Lotus-eaters, if you want to experience being a style Nine, Marijuana is now legal in many places. For some of us, wine is the modern narcotic of choice.

A personal note. My sister, Rebecca, a PhD clinical psychologist who works on a Native American reservation, says their culture has a lot of Nine qualities. They are in touch with their bodies and nature, their spirituality is physical (dance, sweat lodges, smoke, fasting, drumming) and they are immersed in nature in ways that are foreign to us who live in our mechanistic culture..

Most western spiritual traditions have discernable Enneagram characteristics. They aren't as clear as a personality type, but have some energies. The spiritual tradition of Catholicism is most like style Nine. The inertia is glaring to us who have worked within it, the ideal of being inclusive (Catholic means universal) is real. The wings are even more pronounced. The public One wing-- preaching virtue-- and the private Eight wing (among conservatives only now) can kick you out of the community in this life and condemn you to Hell after that.

Let me close with a song Karen and I wrote about style Nine. Listen to "Wake Me When It's Over."