What is the point of understanding personality types? Since everyone is unique, the idea of cramming people into categories seems odious. And even if personality types were somehow theoretically valid, they would probably be either too academic to be helpful in our daily lives or too vague to be meaningful—grab bags anyone can read anything into. Our fellow human beings compel our attention because they are easily the most changeable, infuriating, pleasurable, and mystifying objects in the environment. It would be impossible for most of us to spend a day without coming into direct or indirect contact with dozens of people—family, friends, people on the street, at the office, on television, in our fantasies, and in our fears. People are everywhere, having all sorts of impacts on us—for better or worse.
There may even have been times when we realized that we did not know ourselves. The behavior of others—and even our own behavior—is, at times, strange and unsettling. Odd things keep popping up, or seem to be out of place. Some of these surprises can be pleasant, but some are decidedly unpleasant, having calamitous effects upon us far into the future. This is why, if we are too unthinking about the personality types in which human nature expresses itself, we run the risk of disaster. The person we thought we knew may turn out to be a monster or hopelessly self-centered. We may find that we have been callously used or that our legitimate needs have been selfishly ignored. Unless we have insight, we can be terribly abused. The opposite is equally true: unless we have insight, we may overlook a diamond in the rough, or be too quick to get out of a relationship which is actually worth saving. Without insight, we may be hurt or foolish, and either way end in unhappiness.
The problem is, however, that while everyone wants insight into others, few people are as willing to look so intently at themselves. We want to know what makes other people tick, yet we are afraid to discover anything upsettingabout ourselves. Today's competitive culture has shifted the emphasis of the ancient injunction of the oracle at Delphi from "know thyself" to "psych out the other guy." We would like to be able to figure out people as if we had X-ray vision, while not wanting others to see our weaknesses and shortcomings. We do not want anyone, including us, to see us as we really are. Unfortunately, something necessary and valuable—looking at ourselves with the same objective eye with which we view others—has been lost. We have everything upside down. To correct this, we should remember Kierkegaard's advice. He suggested that we become subjective toward others and objective toward ourselves. That is, when we judge the actions of others, we should put ourselves in their place, trying to understand how they see themselves and their world. And when we judge ourselves, we should see ourselves as others see us, overcoming the ease with which we find extenuating circumstances for ourselves. Of course, Kierkegaard's suggestion is very difficult to put into practice. We need to cut through vanity and self-deception when we look at ourselves, as well as cynicism and defensiveness when we examine others. We must have courage toward ourselves and empathy toward others. How can we acquire the knowledge and sensitivity we need? How can we begin to make sense of the vast diversity of human personality? How can we develop insight so that we can lead fuller, happier lives? The answer is paradoxical: we will discover that we cannot really know anyone else until we know ourselves, and we cannot really know ourselves until we know others. The solution to this seeming conundrum is that understanding ourselves and understanding others are really two sides of the same coin—understanding human nature. We believe the Enneagram (pronounced "ANY-a-gram") is the map of human nature which people have long sought.