You’ve probably seen them. Those little quizzes that are supposed to- in 10 questions, or less- figure out your personality type. They proclaim that, based on their formula, that at the end of the quiz they can describe you in a color, character, food, or any other thing really.
Hey I’m fascinated by these types of internet links, and I’ve participated in a substantial amount of them. I know which Friends character I am. I know which of Rory’s boyfriends I would be, if I was in Gilmore Girls. I now know what topping I would be on a pizza, and what Starbucks drink best accents my personality. This is merely a snapshot of the many different quizzes I have taken.
With all of this in mind, I have come to one main conclusion; while they’re the slightest bit accurate, albeit a vague broad stroke of the general populace, each quiz only captured one aspect of my life, personality, or even my character.
They try to boil me down to a bite sized piece; trying to make understanding me easier and even more user-friendly. You see, each one of these quizzes captures a little bit of my essence, but none has ever truly understood me at my core.
They can’t. It’s not what their designed to do. And, while I understand, most of these are gimmicky, used for entertainment purposes, the problem is that their results become a label we hide behind.
For a long while, the Myers-Briggs personality test was all the rage. Everyone was taking it, asking others what four letters they got.
For those of you unfamiliar with the test, it is a psychological questionnaire which derives its results from your internal motivation and intentions. In the end, it rewards you with a combination of letters, that give insight into why you do what you do. (For those of you wondering, I am an INFJ.) Other tests that gained acclaim and acceptance were the Love Languages test, the Strengths Finder, and most recently the Enneagram.
The Enneagram is similar to Myers-Briggs by encapsulating personalities into different types, with pros and cons. Instead of letters it uses numbers, 1-9. There are some online questionnaires that offer to help assign you number, asking you to answer an array of questions on a scale of “yes”, “no”, and “partly”.
At the end, it gives you a number that represents the answers you gave, and it also gives you a “wing”, which is a secondary number, or numbers that are adjacent to your primary number.
The Enneagram took over the university I attended, and it seemed like everyone and their mother were talking about their numbers, or their wing.
It felt like a conversation couldn’t be had without first understanding and talking about someone’s number. I heard on more than one occasion; “You’re such a two!” or “Wow, that’s uncharacteristic for an eight!” and even “What’s your wing… oh, that explains why you haven’t been acting like yourself.”
In an effort to better understand ourselves, and how we can interact with the world around us, it seems that we have effectively secluded ourselves within the prison of personality archetypes and labels.
Now, I don’t blame the Enneagram, or the Myers-Briggs, or any other test in that realm. They were designed to help us peel back the layers of our own psyche, and get past the false façade we put up, to see beneath the masks we wear, and get down to our true motivations. What I have problem with is how we use them. We’ve let these quizzes, which should be used as a reference tool, define who we are and how we should behave.
To say that I can be summed up into one number, or one paragraph at the end of a BuzzFeed character quiz, is not only ridiculous, it’s downright insulting.
I am so much more than my number, or my letter, or even my love languages. I am an amalgamation of experience, history, tradition, family genes, culture and media, fears, and interests.
I am a part of the Millennial generation, which comes with some not so great connotations. Although, I heard once, that ultimately my generation wants nothing more than something they can live for, as well as die for; a cause, a love, a job, a religion, anything.
As I work, learn, and grow amongst my peers, I can see the effects of this very idea played out in about a hundred different scenarios, but they all boil down into two words; belonging and purpose. And this is only becoming increasingly more prominent in the next generation, right after mine.
The difficulty with this desire to belong and have purpose, is that there is no clear cut, one-size-fits-all plan or response. The American culture we live in, right now, is a culture that holds individuality up as an ideal.
And while I truly believe that we are all unique people, what we sacrifice in pursuit of the former is the common ground we all share. In an effort to find out what makes us individual, we merely end up polarizing each other.
In the same vein, our fascination with self-awareness, our inner self and truth, and our personality, has led us to codify humanity.
We have made personality into code, numerically noting our actions. Sometimes I wonder if things like the enneagram become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As if the awareness, or knowledge of the “inner-me”, has led us down a pre-prescribed path.
One of my best friends, during junior year of college, after being diagnosed with depression and personality disorder noted something different about his behavior.
At first, he said he was happy he could “put a name on it.” He liked knowing he wasn’t imagining the pain and struggle, but that there was actually a cognitive disruption.
Although, as time drug on a bit and he began to make peace with the diagnosis, he commented that it started to control him. He was letting himself become defined by the thing that previously inhibited him.
He was being imprisoned by the very revelation that was supposed to free him.
My fear is that rather than do the hard work of actually digging deep into our own selves, we will settle for the easy road.
We take something like the Enneagram, we plug away our answers, and then whatever result we are given becomes our identity. Rather than finding the slivers of truth that can be applied from such things, we let it envelop us; we embrace whatever identity is offered to us on a silver platter.
No longer is the Enneagram number 3 a helpful tool in navigating my personality, it has become my personality.
And what we have sacrificed in exchange for the easy answer or the simple answer, is the truth and complexity of who we really are.
My oldest brother, Jonathan, used to listen to classic metal. He liked bands like Metallica, Slipknot, and Megadeath. Subsequently, as the youngest brother, I also listened to classic metal. Of the bands that would often make an appearance on the radio, my favorite was Iron Maiden.
I remember one song in particular, “The Prisoner”, off their album The Number of the Beast, which starts with a back and forth conversation between two men. It’s a clip from the British television show of the same name, The Prisoner, where a man is told he is merely a number, trying to further embed the fact that prison has fully dehumanized him. In response, in a harrowing moment, his words echo “I am not a number! I’m a free man!”
Humans are not code. We are not simple devices, with a manual, and clear-cut solutions. We are complicated creatures searching for our identity and belonging.
The true beauty of our personalities, the true wonder of the Enneagram, is that you are every number. You are a compilation of experience, environment, tradition, beliefs, fears, goals, love, and sorrow, and so much more.
As you begin to unravel the mystery of what lies just beneath your skin, don’t fall for either of the two lies that culture is trying to sell you.
First, that you are nothing more than a carbon copy. This ideology will lead you further through conformity and will ultimately become true. You will become nothing more than a resemblance of everyone else. A chameleon of culture.
In her song, “Little Boxes”, singer-Songwriter, Malvina Reynolds says
“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same… And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.”
Reynolds is commenting on the desire for us to blend in, to conform to what is hip and trendy to stay relevant. In the process, though, we become nothing more than a clone, acting and living just like everyone else. We have the same jobs, same houses and cars, same clothes, interests, “and we all look just the same.”
The only problem is that we are different. Every single one of us.
While we maintain similarities to others, we are unique individuals. We were not designed to be exactly the same. We are distinct, and that’s okay.
The second lie is that God broke the mold after making you. In an effort to swing the pendulum from the prior extreme, we have embraced the mentality that who we are and what we experience is an entirely unique circumstance. That we are the exception to every rule.
The ill effect of this is that it will ultimately lead us to cloister ourselves off, to keep others at arms-length, because we’re just too different. This is where a lot ethnic and national divides will be born, from this poor conception.
When the reality is, we are all human. Living and breathing. Right here and right now. It is this fact that is the great equalizer. Are we different? Sure. However, there are things that we will all experience.
We all feel the pain of loss. The joy of love. The desire for growth and development. The worry of failure. The excitement of relationship.
There are things that are universal. Emotions, reactions, and desires that transcend just one people group, but is felt by all of humanity.
We must begin to walk the fence between individualization and complete conformity. There is a belonging and purpose found in the middle. There is a beauty found at the intersection between our humanity and our differences.
You are not a number. You are all of them.
Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden, The Prisoner.
 Malvina Reynolds, Little Boxes.