Gandhi the Perfectionist


Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

In the Sunday Book Review of March 27, 2011, Hari Kunzru reviewed Joseph Lelyveld’s book about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India. Kunzru’s review is called Appreciating Gandhi Through His Human Side. Lelyveld, a New York Times executive editor, was a former correspondent in India and South Africa. Ingrid Stabb and I list Gandhi as a Perfectionist in our book The Career Within You (page 17) because of his strong adherence to his principles. The rest of this  blog consists of parts of Kunzru’s article.

Gandhi (1869-1948) came from a conservative merchant caste, became part politician and part saint and renewed the tradition of Hindu asceticism in the hope not just of political independence, but also of a social and spiritual transformation. 

Gandhi was attracted to Theosophy, a mixture of Hinduism and Western Spiritualism. In 1894 Gandhi identified himself in a newspaper advertisement for a series of self-published tracts as “Agent for the Esoteric Christian Union and the London Vegetarian Society.” When he discovered Tolstoy, his creed of universal brotherhood and radical nonviolence affected him profoundly.

Gandhi became a spokesman for the Indian business elite of Natal Province in South Africa, lobbying against a system of discriminatory legislation, which was rapidly evolving toward full-blown apartheid. Despite his later claims, Gandhi did not immediately champion the rights of indentured laborers, the underclass of mainly low-caste South Indians who had been transported to labor in mines and on plantations in conditions of semi-slavery. He was also yet to become the staunch anti-imperialist of later years. Hoping to gain concessions from the British colonial authorities, he organized an Indian stretcher battalion to serve in the Boer War, and in an ignoble episode in 1906 assisted (also as the leader of a corps of stretcher-bearers) in the brutal suppression of a Zulu uprising.

Throughout Gandhi’s time in South Africa there is no sign of any attempt to make common cause with the black majority. Imprisoned with Zulu convicts, he reported un-self-consciously that “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized—the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals.”

There has been controversy about Gandhi’s political rivalries and his shortcomings as a husband and father. Mr. Lelyveld’s frank discussion of Gandhi’s erotically charged friendship with the German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach is likely to ruffle feathers, especially in a country where homosexual activity was a criminal offense until 2009. Gandhi left his wife to live at Kallenbach’s house in Johannesburg for a period, and Kallenbach donated to Gandhi the 1,100 acres that became their communal Tolstoy Farm in 1910. As Mr. Lelyveld notes, “in an age when the concept of Platonic love gains little credence,” the romantic tone of their letters (including pet names) is likely to be read as indication of a straightforward homosexual intimacy. Yet it is also clear in Mr. Lelyveld’s account that Gandhi’s celibacy was a profound and deeply felt position.

Gandhi returned to India in 1914 and threw himself into the struggle for self-rule. Repeatedly imprisoned by the British, he led a campaign of civil disobedience, culminating in the Salt March movement of 1930, which, as Mr. Lelyveld writes, “shook the pillars of the Raj” and resulted in 90,000 arrests after Gandhi defied a British tax by the simple act of going to the seashore and harvesting salt.

Mr. Lelyveld portrays Gandhi as a disciplined religious ascetic. Where he ate, what he ate, who cooked it—all were properly political questions for a leader trying to maintain shaky unity between Hindus and Muslims, while engaged in a battle against the caste system, which was one of the foundations of Hindu belief. By voluntarily performing actions considered polluting or degrading, like collecting human waste and living with untouchables, Gandhi earned the right to offer new definitions of what was uplifting and purifying—definitions that were both spiritual and political. Mr. Lelyveld has restored human depth to the Mahatma, the plaster saint, allowing his flawed human readers to feel a little closer to his lofty ideals of nonviolence and universal brotherhood.

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Does the Beloved MBTI Mix with the Enneagram?


When Renee Baron and I were doing research for “The Enneagram Made Easy,” we asked an esteemed therapist who knew both the MBTITM and the Enneagram if she would tell us her ideas about using the two systems together. She essentially said that they are both so precious that it would be blasphemy to combine them. I didn’t agree with her then, and now, 18 years later, I love both systems even more and continue to use them separately and combined, in my private life and in my writing.

In editing the chapters of “The Career Within You,” Ingrid Stabb and I used the MBTITM as to check the accuracy of the distribution of Enneagram traits, just as Renee and I had done in “The Enneagram Made Easy” and “Are You My Type, Am I Yours?” and I had done in “The Enneagram of Parenting” and “Finding the Birthday Cake.” This was especially important, because the traditional Enneagram literature and Enneagram lore has the nine types skewed toward a preponderance of intuitives or visionary personalities. The reason for this is that those interested in systems, such as the Enneagram and the MBTITM, are mostly intuitive types. Therefore, the subjects most Enneagram authors base their conclusions on (themselves, their students, and their friends) are also mostly intuitives. People of the opposite type, sensate, are rarely found studying systems like the Enneagram and the MBTITM. The MBTITM is also a valuable resource because it has statistics of how many of each type occur in the population:

Distribution of MBTITM Types in the US population

Source of General Population Data: Myers et al, 1998

51% Extraverted, 49% Introverted

73% Sensing (down to earth), 27% intuitive (visionary)

Thinking 40%, Feeling 60%

54% Judging (wanting closure), 46% Perceiving (keeping options open)

Based on the MBTITM statistics, then, Perfectionists, are made up of about half and half introverts and extraverts. Almost three quarters of them are sensing, and 60% feeling. Knowing what we know about Perfectionists, we might change the percentage of feelers (60%) and thinkers (40%)—there may be more thinking type Perfectionists than 40%. The U.S population is 54% judging. Judging is one of their basic traits so that should be raised to much more than 54%. Asserters probably reflect the statistics above, so there might be, for example, 27 intuitive types to 73 sensate types. Romantics will have fewer than 40% thinkers, however, because feeling is a common trait of theirs, and Observers will have more than 40% thinkers, because thinking is something they are known for. Still, there are thinking type Romantics and feeling type Observers (I’m a feeling type Observer myself).

I think the most misunderstood number by Enneagram writers is the Adventurer. They are almost always portrayed as intuitive types but I don’t believe it! My Adventurer son is a sensate type and I believe he’s one of 73% of Adventurers of the population that are sensate. It may be a mistake to portray more than 27% of Adventurers as visionaries.

In conclusion, I wish more people would apply the beloved MBTITM to the Enneagram in order to reflect the population more accurately. It’s inaccurate to present a picture of the kind of people who want to read about the personality system instead of a picture of the real population of the country.

Reminder: please send me a story of an interesting or uplifting dying or near-death experience along with the subject’s Enneagram type for my current book project. See my post of August 10, 2010 on Psychology Today http://bit.ly/psychtdy for more details. ewagele@aol.com

Learn about the books mentioned at http://www.wagele.com and http://careerwithinyou.com

“Perfectionists” as Children (Type One)


Three fish from "The Enneagram of Parenting"

One parent reported his son would line up grains of sand in his crib in perfect lines as a baby. He grew up to become a Perfectionist airplane pilot, a good occupation along with dentist, surgeon and other careers where being exact is important. Some Perfectionist children become teachers’ pets for being obedient, turning in assignments on time, and encouraging their peers to do what’s expected of them. When I taught piano lessons, I tried to downplay the importance of getting every note right. Some children applied their own pressure to themselves, though, and I couldn’t convince them that a wrong note here and there was nothing to be ashamed of. I suspect it was most often the Perfectionists who were most likely to burst out in tears when they made mistakes.

Walter One from "Finding the Birthday Cake"

As is often the case in the Enneagram, there are two kinds of Perfectionists: the meticulous one featured in these two cartoons and the kind that pays more attention to principals, ideals, and causes. This second type might grow up to be an ecologist, consumer activist, or minister. Of course, both aspects can be combined in the same person. Perfectionists want to do what is right and usually strive to improve themselves throughout their lives.

In order to reduce the stress of Perfectionist children, parents and teachers do well to encourage creativity and free play. Creativity and having fun get children in touch with their own desires and beauty so they have less time to focus on what they “should” or “ought to” be doing. It helps to schedule in these times, especially for the most serious Perfectionists.

To Buy “The Enneagram of Parenting:” Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

To Buy “Finding the Birthday Cake:” Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

For more information about all of Wagele’s books and tape: http://www.wagele.