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The Virtues and the Passions


“As for him who looks through eyeglasses, everything he sees seems to be the color that they are. And just as things appear smaller or larger according to the shape of the lenses, the passions and affectation of the soul make everything appear according to the passions that govern it.”
Juan de Borya, The Empresas Morales, 1581

“Introspection is the first step toward transformation, and I understand that, after knowing himself, nobody can continue being the same.”

Thomas Mann—On himself

The transformational power of the Enneagram system lies in the concept of the virtues and the passions. The passion of each type represents the primary emotional motivation for that type. In short, the passions motivate peoples' behaviors. The idea is that by learning to recognize their passions, people may come to see how these habitual emotional preoccupations have gained control of their lives. Each type's passion is its greatest challenge—and its greatest teacher.

The Enneagram is based on the traditional virtues of mankind. They are: serenity, humility, truthfulness, equanimity, non-attachment, courage, sobriety, innocence and action. Plato called these virtues moral energies.1 The universally recognized virtues (higher energies) flow naturally when we are aware of them and use them consciously in our lives. Each type has its own corresponding virtue.

The passions (anger, pride, deceit, envy, retentiveness, fear, gluttony, lust and sloth) are distorted versions of the virtues that develop in childhood as ways of coping with the difficulties of growing up. These ego-coping strategies are effective and appropriate for children, but as people mature, these same once necessary strategies turn into habits that can become counterproductive.

The passions are deficiencies of the virtues, as Aristotle put it, or they are twisted misapplications of the virtues. The passions are chronic emotional preoccupations; automatic default feelings—the driving emotional force of each of the types. For most of us they are as natural as the air we breathe, so we don’t even realize these forces are controlling us --though others often see these forces at work in us quite clearly. The passion and the virtue together for each type describe the two sides of the personality coin that make us knowable or recognizable as our type. And recognizing the passion of our type in action can help us to restore the virtue. Returning to your type’s virtue, allowing it to govern your behavior rather than the passion, is the goal here in improving one’s experience of life.

These passions have been described in the world's literary traditions for centuries. In The Divine Comedy, Dante describes the seven areas of purgatory in virtually the same terms as the Enneagram describes the passions. These seven deadly sins, with the addition of deceit and fear, form the nine passions of the Enneagram. And each "sin" has a corresponding "virtue" that acts as an antidote to the "poison of the sin." 2

It is important to note that each of the passions, is shared by all of the types. We are all familiar with anger, lust and pride, for example. But each type tends to operate out of one passion over the others. (Interestingly, we tend to be most blind to seeing just which passion is operating as our default mode.) It is also important to note that no one type is better or worse than any other type. We're all in this boat together.

1 Oscar Ichazo followed Plato's lead in the use of this terminology.

2 Ichazo is credited with coming up with the placement of the personality configurations as known today onto the Enneagram symbol. Also, the passions have different, but related, labels according to which author you read. See Rohr, Richard and Andreas Ebert, Discovering the Enneagram: An Ancient tool for a New Spiritual Journey, New York: Crossroad, 1992, for a discussion of the historical view of the passions.

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