Fly on the Wall—Not the Type to Take Personality Tests?

Try the Enneagram Between Episodes of the Bachelorette!

Fly on the Wall—Not the Type to Take Personality Tests?

“She’s a backbiting gossiper who throws anyone under the bus as soon as they leave the room.  Nasty, fussy, impolite—just your type!” With sarcasm and passive aggression it’s easy to denigrate a person and categorize them, rightly, wrongly, or humorously.  Such pop psychology can be enacted whenever a conversation veers into being about people rather than ideas.  Yet, as lifelong learners, we might want to consider how common it is to attack an individual rather than diagnosing toxic aspects of society as a hole.

Critiquing one another can be a lamentable or honourable part of human nature, depending on (to channel The Bachelorette) whether we’re there for the right reasons.  Maoist China, to this day, employs liturgical criticism and self-criticism as part of its program; those who watch the tell-all segments at the end of each Bachelor/Bachelorette season see this process worked over in our culture as well.  Yet, to focus on the individual is a bit like lamenting the weather; it limits subjective reality to a singular domain at the expense of a broader view of circumstances.

Recently a sibling of mine, herself a therapist, suggested to me a personality test to try; these can be fun, and this one has a fun name: The Enneagram.  You get to answer a glut of queries using the Likert’s scale of 1-5 and voila, you get a fortune-cookie sized category that theoretically fits your inner essence.  It turned out that, among options like Reformer, Explorer, and Enthusiast, I came out as a Peacemaker.  But the real takeaway from this test, unlike the Meyers-Briggs or a host of others, was how some of the questions were framed.  Statements like “I tend to be caring and supportive of those in my life, when not stressed” consistently carried that ominous caveat as though the fibre of our being could only be authentically expressed when not stressed.  Stress, that most contextual of concerns, to the psychologizing mind, would appear to transcend our being.  Despite the truthful misery of stress, such an approach rings a few social science alarm bells.  Probably a few would-be humourists wondered if maybe Stressy is itself a personality type!  But, then, we all get stressed, so that’d be kind of self-defeating.  However, the value of the test was in its ability to help us understand our methods of motivation, rather than on the inherent limitations of social reality where our minds and actions must occur in the context of others.

Stepping back off the seesaw of typologies, it’s worth remembering that each academic discipline tends to enrobe itself with a litany of assumptions about what counts and matters within its realm.  University can be a playground for we inquisitive pupils but only the bravest and most ontologically promiscuous students can truly become interdisciplinary.  We all have such abilities within us, though, because we’re dynamic beings rather than static stereotypes.  AU’s MAIS program, from where I graduated, is an exercise in the complexity of investigating using multiple frames of analysis.  Like the famous nude emperor, psychology is no exception to the silo-esque nature of each realm of research: we can only see a topic differently when we cast off the assumptions of one discipline to take on another.  Others who hold to their discipline’s beliefs will see flaws that, to them, limit the value of their less preferred epistemics.  Thus, to be interdisciplinary is to learn to wear assorted garb.

One tool for being an interdisciplinary type of student is to study thinkers who are outliers compared to the normative realities in a given school of thought.  Take Karl Marx, that most potent of political theorists.  Marx, famed for his critiques of capitalist political economy also gave some powerful comments on the state of modern human minds.  “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, it is their social existence that determines consciousness” (online).  This Yin-Yang dialectic illustrates the two-way flow by which our minds become our selves; even when we consider how we feel, we have multiple perspectives clamouring for dominance, illustrating that we are never an unquestionable unity so much as we might imagine.

Recalling the Enneagram, we here can note that the “when not stressed” part could be said to be what matters most of all.  We’ve all had moments, hangry or tired, or deadline-neurotic, when we’re not enlivened by our best characteristics.  Thus, the question of psychological types becomes not only about our minds in a vacuum hermetically sealed from the twists and turns of social reality.  Types come to appear as products of society rather than absolute states of being.  This is all too clear when we observe the kvetching and gossip endemic to ourselves and others, especially when stressed!  And most especially when we’re trying to study.

Enneagram Universe.  (2021).  Retrieved from
%d bloggers like this: