When I was initially learning the Enneagram energies and we got to Type Eight (nicknamed “The Challenger”), the Eight’s virtue of “Innocence” didn’t make much sense. Isn’t the Eight the strong-willed type, the no-nonsense type, the “tough customer”? Shouldn’t the virtue of Innocence be a better fit for a gentler, sweeter type like the Two?
Eights are known for being strong. They feel their own power and desires strongly on a gut level. They also tend to relate better through oppositional energy, a form of control that feels safer. I like to think of Eights as rather streetwise. Ask your favorite Eight if they have any illusions about how the world works, and they’ll immediately give you a direct “no.” They’re by no means gullible, naive, or unprepared for the harsh realities of the human condition. They know what the game is about, and they’re not going to shy away, especially from confronting attempts at control—real or perceived—from others.
Eights are often described as combative and ready for a fight. If by “ready for a fight” we mean looking to cause trouble, that seems unfair. But if by “ready for a fight” we mean that they have already donned a full suit of armor, then absolutely.
I heard an Eight at a workshop once describe why he felt so guarded toward the world as a natural stance. It was precisely because he had a remarkable appreciation for the natural vulnerability of the most tender places within himself and others.
He explained that when you have the world’s rarest diamond, you don’t walk down the street holding it loosely in your hand. No—you put the diamond in a lock box; put that lock box in a safe; put that safe in an armored truck; fill that truck with armed guards; and give that truck a police escort.
What Eights Know
Eights have a natural and remarkable intuition that the deepest, truest, most vulnerable parts of the human person are like that diamond. It’s the same impulse that makes new parents drive annoyingly slowly and shop for cars with the absolute best safety rating. When you recognize for yourself, in yourself, something of incomparable value and tenderness, you want that to be respected. And Eights are savvy enough to look around and see myriad examples of the world doing everything but honoring that precious part of the human person.
So Eights learned to don the armor, to adopt a hardened exterior in order to keep the deeper, more vulnerable parts hidden. And guess what? It works.
But developing Eights eventually come to realize that the walls they’ve built to keep things out also keep things in, including all of the authentic parts of them that, like all of us, long for real and safe connection. Eights, like many of us, find it easy to buy into the lie that people will either invade or abandon us.
Eights are natural armorers; it’s probably my favorite image of them. Not only do they protect themselves well through a manufactured hard exterior, but they know the world of protection intimately—so much so that they can size up others’ armor, often with ruthless effect. Their zeal for arming themselves is only matched by their lust for stripping others of all false exteriors in an attempt to see the real person underneath.
When they touch Innocence, though, Eights don’t need to strip someone of their armor; seeing through the armor is itself enough. The unredeemed Eight wants to expose others while never having to expose themselves. The redeemed Eight is the opposite, willingly letting down the defenses of the self designed to keep the tender parts unreachable. This Eight no longer needs to strip others of their own protections as a way of sensing the Eight’s own power, which is to say, as a way of feeling less vulnerable. In this state of Innocence, the Eight does the most gentle thing of all: engaging the world without weapons and inviting—rather than forcing—others to do the same.
As a way of being, this is actually as wise as it is bold. Shakespeare touched on this when he had his Henry VI exclaim, “What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted!” This untainted heart actually invites others in, leading to connection, rather than daring someone to a challenge, which invites disconnection.
The Culture Code is a book that tries to analyze what highly successful cultures have in common. (Think Google, Pixar, and the San Antonio Spurs.) One of its three key components is “share vulnerability.” The author shares about a series of fascinating experiments.
The experiments showed that the mere act of being vulnerable primes us to feel connected to others—and them to us. When we see someone else being vulnerable, we become more likely to be vulnerable ourselves. They call this a “vulnerability loop.” And the feelings of trust, cooperation, and goodwill transferred to other people whether they had shown vulnerability themselves or not. When a stranger walks into the room after a vulnerable moment, participants are likely to transfer those feelings of connection onto them. We’re hardwired for a loop where connection creates more connection which creates even more connection.
Eights are individuals who struggle to believe this hardwiring of humanity is true, that the more vulnerable we are, the more vulnerable others are—that the more we open up and let our guard down, the less likely we are to be taken advantage of.
So what about ‘Innocence’?
The word “innocence” contains the Latin root noc, meaning “harm.” Something that is “innocuous” is not harmful. “Innocence” means “free from harm.”
The Eight energy in its redeemed form is “free from harm” in the sense that it is committed to not inflicting harm on others—through the usual forceful methods of attempting to tear down the facade another has chosen to put on (often unconsciously). But the Eight also can access a “freedom from harm” in their own experience—a sort of superpower of being free from harm in their own person.
It would be easy to conclude this freedom from harm is an invulnerability, but that only contributes to the Eight’s desire to be impenetrable. As soon as we think that, the unredeemed armorer Eight is back at work. No, the freedom from harm in their own person—the Innocence—is the freedom from carrying harm.
It isn’t that living a life unguarded somehow protects us from the dangers around us. But in living a life that doesn’t need to be guarded we find an inner strength we didn’t dare hope existed. We find a freedom from the harm of harm, a vulnerability that results in allowing more sensation, more connection, more to touch us. This Innocence protects us from nothing yet sustains us in everything.
This way of being overcomes the harm that may befall us by surrendering to a more unguarded engagement with the world. What’s more, the gifts of this way of being, of Innocence, allow the Eight more of what their true self craves—more sensation, more connection, more access to our own sense of aliveness. In other words, the very zest of life; the real. It allows access to what’s beneath the facade.
When we touch what’s most alive in ourselves, we find we are able to touch what’s most alive in others. We experience for ourselves the “heart untainted” and sense for ourselves that this is the way it is supposed to be. The strength of carrying so much by way of protection is replaced by the strength of risking a life of the real—infinitely more satisfying in its fruition.
Showing the world our true self, our diamond of incomparable worth, requires an enormous amount of strength. And we do risk that others won’t appreciate the unguarded gift we’re offering. But if Eights can access this diamond at their center, they’ll see that what’s truest in themselves, though utterly exposed, is infinitely unshakable. Besides, what human hand could ever hope to do harm to a diamond?
Also in This Series
The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
Look for an announcement soon about Sam’s fall 2019 Enneagram workshop series taking place in the Wheaton, Illinois, area.
Samuel Ogles is a writer, speaker, spiritual director, and Enneagram teacher living in the western suburbs of Chicago. He co-hosts the Ask a Spiritual Director podcast, and he loves communicating, spirituality, and empowering others with deeper insights and a vision for change. Learn more at SamuelOgles.com.