An 8 child’s story
In the 6th grade a friend and I found a classroom open during spring break. We saw it as an unexpected opportunity for an amazing adventure filled with possibilities. We moved things all around the room; we changed the names on the chalkboard and talked into the tape recorder. We created total havoc just anticipating how much fun it would be for the students to sort it all out when they returned to school from the holiday week. After all they wouldn’t have to work! Right?
Anyhow, my friend was the straight A, school president (137) that became riddled with guilt and told her parents. I of course kept my bond of secrecy as she begged me to give my word that I would never tell anyone what she did. To an 8 their word is their bond. So, I did not reveal her name, not knowing that she had told. A very fair-minded Vice Principal that had been our 5th grade teacher knew that we were both good kids that just didn’t understand the harm our fun could cause. He was also struck by the fact that I took total blame for the transgression and never told on my friend. Later, I was to learn that this was her cry for much needed attention to not have to be the perfect person. At the time, of course, this was unknown to me. I was just having fun and did not experience guilt as I did not intend any harm… My cry turned out to be of another kind, far more hidden and silent.
The Principal was very resolute in the belief that a strong hand and severe punishment was the way to teach a wayward, strong-willed child the lessons of life. His punishment was to have me spend all of lunch and recess in his office for the last 2 months of school, to publicly humiliate me as well as deprive me of all graduating festivities and events. This of course is the kind of experience that 8s believe created their 8ness. After all, I had spent 7 years getting through the rigors of limitation that school rules presented to an 8 and graduation was a major element towards freedom from my perception of elementry school oppression. I could not see the fairness or justice in losing all privileges due to one misguided mistake.
From the limited perspective of an 11 year old this experience reinforced the theory that life is not fair so why respect unjust authority? Why care and most of all in confirmed the notion that I must be tough because I was on my own. I would suggest this further proves to the 8 stance that the 8 is correct in their world view and that due to experiences such as these the 8 begins to stop sorting for data to the contrary. I would also suggest that there is a trap for all of the types. There are always situations and experiences to support whatever our Enneagram type defense strategy would have us believe to be true.
I was humiliated and imploding inside of course but I never shed a tear and came across as self-possessed and unaffected. This was far from the truth. 8s protect themselves from painful emotions that feel debilitating. We deny our vulnerability so that we can prevail in the face of adversity. This is because the 8s are natural born leaders that innately know how to power through obstacles and have the ability to use mind over matter. The strength to stand alone for their truth, stand up for the underdog, disadvantaged and under-represented at great personal risk can be see as very young child. And, the 8 is the Enneagram type that has the defense strategy designed to challenge oppression and fight against tyranny and injustice…the very qualities of a true leader. The problem is that the 8 child needs to learn to work with their tendency to be assertive and overpowering …just as the more timid 6 or 9 child needs to learn how to speak up for themselves rather than being passive-aggressive.
The vice-principal’s punishment was far more painful than that of the principal. It was instructive rather than punitive. In contrast, the vice-principal’s punishment was to assign me to meet after school each day with the teacher whose room I had vandalized. This was horrifying to me. It was easy to endure sitting in the Principal’s office for all to see, as I believed it made me tougher. I was after all, unfairly treated and a survivor. However, to have to face my unknown victim was unnerving. I had visions of slave labor to further define the unjust world of the adults.
Ouch…..Not so…….This teacher was very nice and never made me ‘do’ anything. Everyday she just talked with me. Everyday, I had to feel more and more feelings and it was agonizing. When was she going to be mean and unjust? Why didn’t she make me a slave so I could rile against her tyranny? Why didn’t she treat me with disdain so that I could raise my jaw and glare at her with defiance? Why was she so understanding? I had no defenses for such unexpected acts of kindness. I felt bereft of resources to deal with this kind of power.
She did not lecture, she did not chastise, in fact, she told me nothing, she only inquired. She continued her onslaught of gentle benevolence by asking me questions about what mattered to me. She asked me what I had hoped for by rearranging the room. When I told her she laughed and then explained how some of the children laughed and had a wonderful time but that many of the children were frightened and others thought that their things might be gone never to be found and cried. This of course, had never occurred to me. I had to let in that my actions had left little 3rd graders feeling afraid and unprotected…my very own core wounding. I was crushed! I wasn’t a Santa Claus as I has imagined; I was the Grinch to these little vulnerable 8-year-olds. I found it unforgivable. My self-vengeance was far crueler and greater than anything the principal had denied me.
In addition, to further make me squirm in my own feelings she asked me what I wanted out of life. She asked what my dreams were and since I was naturally protective what I wanted to do as an adult to protect others. She asked me if I would want to have me for a friend and why? I had never thought of these things. They were life-altering questions. She said that she would have been happy to be my friend in school because I was so protective and willing to take the full blame to protect my friend. She also asked me what I wouldn’t like about having me as a friend. All of a sudden I found a longer list, and the beginning of the journey towards becoming my own trusted friend.
It was here in the room of my disgrace that I found the divine embrace off a strong, flexible boundary that introduced a mirror to my innermost self and a window to my soul. I no longer felt like a gorilla in a small zoo cage unable to be, but rather a gorilla high in the jungle with a family troop to protect. It was there in that classroom of my misadventure that I learned the true meaning of teaching consequences with ‘benevolent’ tough love. I learned about life in a new way and how to have true power… the power of benevolence. I was not crushed, rejected, demeaned or humiliated as I had been so many times before when my intentions were misunderstood… Rather, I was like a crumpled piece of paper retrieved from the trash bin to be gently unfolded, read and accepted so that I might know that like the paper I had once been a part of a majestic tree – worthy of being cherished and kept rather than discarded.
Rarely does a year go by that I do not remember my misadventure in the 6th grade, the moment of my disgrace or most importantly, the benevolent mirrors that allowed me to see myself clearly for the first time. I will always remember the experience of the adults that supported me by affording me the opportunity to glimpse my potential adulthood, open my defended heart and discover the power of my impact. From then on, I chose to try and have a positive impact on others and show the same power of compassion and understanding that I received. I actively sought out examples in my world to draw upon to shape a new view of true power. As a result, I try to show kindness in the face of disempowerment, but I can assure you that I can still fail in spite of my efforts. The difference is that due to the benevolence that I was shown as a child I want to be benevolent with others. Because it came as such a surprise, without judgment and with such kindness, it created a lasting imprint on my character.
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