I’ve been studying Spiral Dynamics for a few years now and decided to put together an overview. This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start. More conversations to come hopefully! Enjoy.
What a sweet film.
If you saw it, then you know it was just an adorable story about a teenage boy coming to terms with his sexuality and desperately trying to protect a life he loves and doesn’t want to change should he decide to come out.
As I watched, some elements of this story rang true and looked all too familiar (more on that later). But a big part of me left saying… wow… I wish every young LGBTQ person could come out under those circumstances.
- A school whose administration is wildly, unapologetically supportive and inclusive.
- A sassy theater teacher who publicly defends you to the school bullies.
- Bullies who do really no more than just mock you and one of the other gay kids (zero violence, zero name calling, zero intimidation, and no actual display of homophobia).
- Friends who aren’t surprised, unconditionally loyal, unafraid to hold you accountable for your behavior, and mature enough to overlook your mistakes (eventually) and forgive and forget.
- A dad whose in touch with his emotions, apologizes for creating an “unsafe” environment through flippant gay jokes (that… weren’t really *that* offensive… insensitive for sure… but not actually bigoted).
- A mom who reaches out but respects boundaries, who is wise, secure, empowered, and patient.
- A sister who is your biggest ally.
- And strong chemistry with another mature, well-adjusted, age-appropriate gay guy at your school.
What an amazing world. And wouldn’t it be amazing if that was the world every kid lived in?
That wasn’t my experience and unfortunately it’s not the experience of (if I may generalize) most LGBTQ people. That doesn’t mean Love, Simon is misleading. It doesn’t even mean that the story isn’t worth telling.
The truth is:
- All of us have a deep fear of what we’ll lose when we come out.
- Many guys have that amazing female friend who walks us through our growth years, and many of them mistake our deep emotional connection for attraction, and yeah, there’s heartbreak more times than not.
- All of us tried coming out to someone we weren’t really *that* close to first… a relationship that we decide is close enough that the reaction will give us a fair baseline but one we could move on without. Most of us (unless we’re outed) don’t tell those we’re closest to first… because those relationships are the ones we can’t bear to lose.
- We are desperate for feedback. Simon asks Abby: “Are you surprised?” And she says… “do you want me to be surprised?” The truth is: that’s exactly what we hope… but we don’t believe it’s possible.
But what I think I loved most about Love, Simon was the fact that not once did they talk about sex in the entire story. The entirety of the story centered around Simon’s desire for love, connection, and family. The climax (no pun intended) of the story is an innocent adolescent kiss. An entire relationship forms over e-mail and when he accidentally (spoiler alert) signs an e-mail “Love, Simon” all that’s happened is an exchange of vulnerability and support. No pictures, no talk of sex, nothing resembling lust… and that is one misconception I love that this movie corrects.
Go see Love, Simon. It’s worth it. Because we can make that world a reality if we want to. And it’d be an amazing world for our kids to grow up in.
Sin-Virtue Journey: Sloth to Engagement
Belief: Peace is the greatest good and should be pursued and protected at all costs.
Deepest Fear: Losing connection from their tribe, friends, community, or family.
Deepest Desire: Peace, conflict-free life.
How they see/justify their sin: Given enough time, all conflict eventually goes away. I never have to experience tension if I can just wait it out.
9’s site at the top of the circle as the part of us that longs for peace. 9’s are the mediators, the empathetic listeners who have the uncanny ability to understand everyone’s unique point of view. 9’s are mostly go-with-the-flow people who love life and love being connected to others.
9’s signature sin is “Sloth” which doesn’t necessarily mean “laziness” although that’s definitely a possibility. Sloth is more a contrast to their signature virtue: Engagement. It’s a withdrawal from relationship, from life, from being present. 9’s at their worst tend to escape and avoid the difficulties of life (especially conflict and tension) and have impressively long fuses.
When healthy, 9’s press in toward others through connection, support, and engagement. They celebrate relationships and belonging and don’t shy away from the normal disagreements, rubs, and/or conflicts that are part of everyday life.
9 wing 8 | Joey Tribbiani, Friends
Our beloved “glue” character, Joey Tribbiani, from Friends is our example of a 9w8. This wing is more engaged and visible than 9w1’s. Joey is the glue that holds the group together. He instigates plans and capers, stands up for himself, and is unsettled when there’s tension between the “Friends.” When the series ends, the other 5 friends have partnered up, even had kids, and it’s Joey who is left devastated and alone to move on (and eventually start his own spin-off which fared pretty poorly…).
Joey doesn’t often go to a super dark place, but he does have his moments of withdrawal and depression. What we do see is his integration toward “Authenticity” (his 3) paired with his virtue of Engagement. His friends encourage and nurture his dreams (integrated, healthy 9’s exhibit ambition) and every once in a while, the spotlight is on him and not where he tends to always push it: onto others.
9 wing 1 | Kristoff, Frozen
The ice-salesman in the hit Disney movie Frozen is our perfect “leave me alone and in peace” example of the 9w1. Different from more engaged, lively, and connected 9w8’s, these types want peace because, well, it’s the way things should be. Their 1 wing drives them to move when justice, righteousness, and moral goodness is at stake. Kristoff would just as soon hang with his buddy Sven (the reindeer) (remember: “reindeer are better than people”). He likes being an ice salesman and really sees no greater purpose for his life than that.
He’s good-natured and loves going along with others’ plans but when the moment of truth arrives, he displays heroic bravery choosing to “engage” rather than retreat.
9’s are “stasis” personalities. They often are easy going, reliable, and low-maintenance. Consider that 9’s are looking for peace and harmony in their lives. When they grow into their integration line they embrace the “Authenticity” of the 3 and who they are really are. 9’s are often supporting and bringing peace to those around them. When 9’s are healthy what you’ll see is the blossoming of ambition. We see the 9 start to have dreams and hopes for their lives and start to pursue it on their own.
9’s who have swung to the unhealthy end of the spectrum move toward their signature sin of “Sloth” and move into the disintegrated sin of the 6’s “Fear.” What’s unsettling to the 9 is tension, stress, hostility, aggression, and intensity. When their world can’t promise to stabilize itself or a relationship won’t let up on its threatening demeanor they can get withdrawn and anxious.
9’s are most likely going to be support characters due to their stability and chill vibe. Your circumstances if you do choose to make a 9 your primary character should center around emotional safety and danger. These elements won’t be difficult to fabricate because literally every other type can provide this in some way shape or form.
9 villains are exceptionally hard to find. With all my research I really couldn’t think of a good example of a primary, dominant 9 villain. The situation that would have to be created is a scenario where the villain’s inaction is the crux of the conflict. Or it’d have to be a situation where a powerful leader dismisses threats and actually creates obstacles to the hero’s success.
One minor villain I did find as an example of this is the Steward Denethor of Gondor, from Lord of the Rings. If you don’t remember who this is, don’t worry, his role wasn’t that prominent. What you might remember, though, is that he was the royal figure whose son Faramir was wounded in battle and Denethor presumed dead (he wasn’t).
In his grief and in his dysfunctional desire to avoid accepting the hard road toward healing and recovery, it’s easier for Denethor to declare his son dead and order him cremated. Pippen the Hobbit freaks out and orchestrates his rescue while Denethor does what a truly unhealthy 9 would do in such a moment of tension: he goes upstairs and messily eats a salad pretending that it never happened.
You might have to work to make your primary protagonist or antagonist (or even anti-hero… which I can’t think of an example of now for you… but I’m open to recommendations) a full 9. But take the challenge and see what you can do.
One differentiation that may be helpful is the difference between a 9 and 2. They look really similar given their good-natured personas and desire to be connected and engaged with others. What you need to consider is that the 2 is a worker. They want to be seen, acknowledged, thanked and valued. 9’s don’t really need a lot. They want to be included but as long as there’s fun and peace they should be pretty good to go.
You might assume that the intense personalities would feel the most dangerous to the 9 (intense 8’s, skeptical 6’s, steamrolling 3’s, self-righteous 1’s, etc.) but in real life, the 9 tends to be attracted to these types. They actually make great couple pairs for these high intensity types. What’s not likely to work are combinations that are too similar to them such as other 9’s or potentially low grade 2’s.
9’s can be wonderfully creative characters or great support for other intense characters. You can play around with them especially as way to round out an ensemble if necessary.
Marge, The Simpsons
Hal, Malcolm in the Middle (TV)
Baloo, The Jungle Book
Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh
Josh Chan, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Welcome to my little project. This and the posts that follow are 100% my opinion, 100% because I’m a nerd at heart, and 100% because I just wanted to do something creative. The Enneagram has become one of the most fascinating tools in my arsenal of learning to understand people better and the most sophisticated resource I’ve come across. So read ahead accordingly. It’s all just a bit of fun.
I’ve done a bit of creative writing over the years. It’s so much harder than I thought it’d be because a) I struggle with imagination, b) writing has never been my strong suit, and c) I tend to tackle it logically, clinically, and in a somewhat formulaic manner. Learning the artistry side of writing stretches me (probably a healthy move for a 3w2 to cultivate my 4 wing a bit more). But one thing I think does help me is my ability to craft character profiles. It’s why I think this is worth considering. I think the strongest stories are the ones with characters who are consistent, who lead the story instead of react to it. So without further or do, here’s an intro as to why I think it matters.
In storytelling, the characters we follow are representations of who we are at our very core. They go on the adventures we could only hope to have. They face the horrors we fear to face, the victories we dream to prevail over, and become the people we wonder if we’ll ever become. What makes a character great is when they suffer in a way that’s closely or distantly familiar to us, when they face loss, experience pain, confront insurmountable obstacles, face demons, confront bullies, or even endure the dispassionate natural disasters or threats i
n the world around us. It’s who they come out as on the other side that’s the big mystery, the big reveal. We hold our breath to wonder if it’s truly possible to weather the storms, to come out on the other side more or less… okay. We are scared of scars, fear trauma, and are fundamentally terrified of the unknown. Stories help us consider the possibilities and give us a chance to ask: in a similar circumstance, would I make it?
Life and death are the most fundamental realities we comprehend. And by taking our characters to the brink of life and death, we explore that basic primal reality and determine how we will live accordingly.
I say all this because stories that touch us deeply have to be at some level relatable (we may not understand what it’s like to be a Hobbit but we can understand the need to come out of comfort and move into bravery) but also believable. While the complexity of the human soul is far too sophisticated to fully catalog, a tool like the Enneagram can help make a character make sense. Not everyone is identical, we know that. We’re not creating robots and merely changing their programming. We’re crafting beings with ideals, personalities, hopes, fears, norms, pain, and at some fundamental level we understand as both writers and readers that any given character has limitations based on their make up.
Bilbo Baggins was happy, like many of his Hobbit brethren, before being whisked away into his journey “There and Back Again.” A 9 on the Enneagram, his desire was for peace, for stability, and to more or less be left alone to live out the serenity of his nice little life. We’d expect him to get agitated or anxious when that stability was threatened (a disintegrated 6) but we also celebrate when he begins to find his own purpose and start to live into it (an integrated 3). We hope he’d make the move from sloth, laziness, or disengagement toward engagement, purpose, and productivity. That’s a character we understand, even when he acted outside that, he followed the basic philosophies of the Enneagram.
What we would have been confused to see is for him to get sidetracked by all the beautiful elf maidens and forget his quest in a brothel (more of a 7 move, maybe like Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek). Or for him to get depressed and lament “no one understands me” maybe giving up entirely that someone more qualified should probably take on the quest (much like his 4 nephew Frodo). That just isn’t Bilbo Baggins. He’s the optimist, he rallies the troops, supports the angsty Thorin Oakenshield when he loses his mind to entitlement and dark withdrawal. He’s not the character we need if he’s a dominating 8, a skittish 6, or an image-obsessed or vain 3.
One of the biggest mistakes a storyteller can make is to craft a character that in essence betrays who they are by becoming what the story needs instead of acting as they would according to their personality and make up. Older cinema, for example, is hard to Enneagram because they were often one dimensional, reactionary, and idealist. Their journeys were mostly external. Consider Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I find her Enneagram far more difficult to define than the great supporting cast around her (the Scarecrow 5, the Tin Man 4, the Cowardly Lion 9 (who lived a lot in his disintegrated 6), the Deceitful Wizard 3). Many of these iconic characters acted according to where the story teller wanted to go instead of considering what this character needed, how they’d respond, what they’d do in the face of their fears, and who they’d ultimately become through the course of their journey.
Storytellers don’t have to sacrifice a great plot, give up an innovative concept, or forego a complex world. But they will find a great deal more depth in their finished product by considering who they’ve sent on these journeys by considering the personalities of who their characters are.
This goes for heroes/protagonists, villains, supporting characters, sages, even anti-heroes. Everyone has a motivation. Villains, especially, become far more compelling when they act according to their Enneagram. A villain might actually be “healthy” on their Enneagram but might merely have a conflicting ideal with our protagonist or even a competitive goal. More often than not, though, a villain will be operating out of their sin or disintegration and understanding their motivations, dysfunctions, and general unhealthiness can make them far more compelling, interesting, even sympathetic. Gone are the days when storytelling was compelling as merely good defeating evil. Characters who are relatable, even villains and anti-heroes, are deeper and more engaging. And those are the characters with whom we journey best.
Next post we’ll break down exactly what the Enneagram gives us/tell us and then we’ll start tackling each Enneagram type in more detail.