In this chaotic and painful world, so many people are doing what they can to make a change for the better, to turn the tables from fear and hate to love and service. And I find great hope in that. No matter how messed up things get due to a small minority of people in power, there will always be more people on the ground who are operating from a place of care, integrity, soul power, compassion, loyalty, and alignment with good.
So how can we make sure we are having the impact that we intend? So often, we see people who start with such good intentions end up hurting others because they are stuck in their way of doing or seeing things and they seem unable to work with others who are different from them; even people on "their side.” It’s so easy to see it in other people:
“There goes Pastor again, trying to massage his hurting sense of white guilt by being extra friendly and helpful to all the people of color in the congregation.”
“Gosh, I wish Brenda knew that her leadership style scares the shit out of all of us. There’s no room for creativity when it feels like I’ll be murdered for making any mistake.”
“Ugh. Sam is driving me crazy. He comes up with all these great ideas and says he’ll help the team in carrying this through. But then he disappears again and knocks us off course because he gets hooked on some new idea!”
Working in teams and communities is hard. People are complicated and relationships are messy. Always. So what can we do about those annoying coworkers, volunteers, and bosses? Unfortunately, not too much. People don’t like to be told to change, don’t like to be “fixed.” As hard as it is, the place we can enact the most change is in ourselves. We can take time to take an honest look at conflicts we’ve been a part of in the past, or situations that have felt uncomfortable.
What was my part in it? What were my motivations, really?
James Flaherty, Enneagram teacher, Integral Leadership coach, and founder of New Ventures West talks about six ways that we tend to interact with systems; whether those systems are our family, workplace or other type of community. He bases them on our Enneagram type, and they are very helpful in understanding our impact, as it’s not enough to just look at our intentions.
There are 6 ways of interacting with systems. We can:
Here is the specific breakdown by Enneagram type
(from his interview with the Shift Network on June 27, 2019)
First triad: Enneagram types 8, 3, 6- they are either Exploiting or Mobilizing
8- Exploit: Through intimidation and coercion, threatening people, by force of personality to get what they want.
Mobilize: possible to inspire systems by serving, huge potential to serve when connected to their heart. (Power of body + sensitivity of the hear t= a healthy 8)
3- Exploit: take credit for what’s happening in a system. Nothing takes the air out of a team as when one person wants to take credit for it
Mobilize: by highlighting the strengths and successes of what’s going on with work partners and within the whole system. This empowers others and helps systems become more aware of their own power, is life giving
6- Exploit: distracting systems with endless “what ifs,” or by demanding clarity that isn’t possible. Stops the forward momentum. This is a way a 6 can stay in charge, and say when their criteria has been met before letting it unfold
Mobilize: bring the courage to create a safe space to innovate and imagine things in a new way, instead of what’s always been.
Second Triad: Enneagram types 1, 2, 5 - they are either Resisting or Harmonizing
(Harmonizing = stepping back and letting life flow, getting out of the way)
1- Resist: everything has to go according to my rules and standards. I’m the guardian and steward of what is correct, in such a way that nothing happens because it shuts everyone else down. (destroying the “good” for the sake of seeking the “perfect”)
Harmonize: bring ease and the pleasure of engagement. We know that systems are always changing and don’t have an endpoint, and we can harmonize with the good that systems can bring, and enjoy the act of engagement itself
2- Resist: dismiss systems as inhuman and unkind. There’s not enough humanity/heart here, so I’m just going to get away from it, dismiss it as not worth my time. I delude myself in thinking I can opt out of the system.
Harmonize: they can point out what strengthens and connects all the different elements of the system, and create optimal space for relationships, which allows the system to unfold
5- Resist: highlight all of its limitations, what it leaves out, it’s blindspots and inconsistencies, get cynical and believe there is no true hope for change, so I opt out
Harmonize: assist people in being able to see the big picture, look at all the ramifications and the wholeness of what they’re doing- connect the dots
Third Triad: Enneagram types 4, 7, 9- They are either Ignoring or Including
4- Ignore: fight for individual views and rights- deny that there even is a collective system. We are all individuals!
Include: help us with stories of imagination that helps us find inclusive meaning so that people hearing it can understand they are part of the system. Promote creativity.
7- Ignore: will cherry pick what to support, ignore the influence of the whole system and only looking at the parts I want to affect me (to protect myself from discomfort)
Include: Welcoming dislodgment-- welcoming being challenged and pulled out of what I like and what’s important to me. Inviting in others point of view, I’m unstuck, not rigid. Visionary mind!
9- Ignore: wait out change and interventions, avoiding and denying conflict, stay comfortable
Include: Invite all voices to the table, make everyone feel heard. When we listen to each other we are more powerful and kind and more effective. Understand and mediate between views.
So much of activist/organizer energy and thought is about “How do we change those people to come to their senses, to be more generous, to be less fearful?” But if we are ever going to have a fighting chance of inspiring others to change, we need to look at our own approach on a personal level. People respond to people, not to theories. With the help of the list above, we can ask ourselves if we are using our passion, talents, time and energy in the most effective way possible.
Ironically, the way to be most effective isn’t to crank up the dial on our speed, output, or marketing strategy. It is to slow down and get present. When we can bring Presence into our work, we are more clearly seeing things as they really are. When we lose presence and are taken over by anger, shame, or anxiety, we react to the way things are instead of responding. A calm, measured response that is free from ego can only happen if we are feeling grounded in something outside of me, myself, and I.
We can use James Flaherty’s list alone or in conversation with a group. Read how your own Enneagram type interacts with systems. As painful as it might be, bring to mind a few times where you were not at your best. It is only by exploring these memories with curiosity that we can learn to avoid making the same mistakes again. And chances are, we will make the same mistakes again. But hopefully, with this new awareness, we will catch ourselves earlier in the act, make amends, and change course. It’s never too late to enact change in ourselves. And changing ourselves is the place where we have the most control, so let’s start there.
Each of us is a piece within the system. When we change, the whole system changes. If we burn out, disengage, or blow up, who benefits?
Take some time to either journal or talk about these questions with a trusted friend, mentor, or coworker.
I'm a Spiritual Director, Enneagram Educator, and Liberationist-Buddhist-Universalist-Mystic-12 step-Queer-Christian. Playing with questions, answers, and surrender.