Is going to prison on your bucket list? Susan Olesek asked this question as she announced the very first Enneagram Prison Project teacher training for enneagram teachers. Well, I never exactly thought it was. But is it? Since the announcement in the beginning of the year, things long forgotten have been coming up one by one. Come to think of it, I did choose the execution as the subject of my ritual analysis at the university all those years ago. And didn’t I join the church group when they made those prison visits back then? And wait, I did spend years campaigning for the rights of prisoners of conscience and against capital punishment. And somehow I ended up at the narrative conference in Cincinnati last year, not entirely sure why it felt so crucial for me to be there. Wait a minute, this may just be why.
Just about everyone who comes across the Enneagram Prison Project is impressed. For me, it is so inspiring because it epitomizes everything that makes the enneagram the powerful tool that I know firsthand it is. First, the enneagram takes us very easily to the heart of things actually relevant for a person. Second, it helps us talk about some very difficult stuff without pathologizing. Third, it is a constant reminder of the fact that all of us are equally vulnerable, needy, broken people. In a way, EPP is one of the most extreme applications of the enneagram, and a testament to its potential.
I don’t want to be naïve or downplay the horrible acts that people commit in this world. Incomprehensible cruelty exists, but to place all of it outside of ourselves as something that doesn’t concern each and every one of us is not only untruthful, it is dangerous. A motto of EPP says that we are all in a prison of our own making. Life circumstances, behavior, life history aside, not one of us is immune to these questions.
Recently, an opportunity for a short but important conversation presented itself. My son is six years old, at that exact age when the battle of good and evil is at the heart of all play. When sticks are swung like swords as the battle rages at the playground and in the woods. The other night, my six-year-old overheard a conversation I had with his grandfather. Among other things, prisons were mentioned. “You help the bad guys too?” (He knows that Grandpa and I both work at HelsinkiMissio, an organization striving to help people.) “Yes, we help the bad guys too.” “Why do you help the bad guys?”
Because nobody is born evil. Because sometimes people do bad things, because bad things were done to them first. Because no one is bad to the core, even if they commit horrible acts. Because, from an enneagram point of view, we are all the bad guy. Or to put it more pleasantly, we are all the good guy.
P.S. Got my tickets, I am going to the EPP teacher training in April. Stay tuned!