Once, I thought all tension was “bad” or “negative.” I was under the assumption that making others uncomfortable (or my making a mistake) was always a “mark against me on the scoreboard of life.” This could be because I am innately, at least according to many of the personality inventories I’ve taken the last 40 years, a so-called “Helper.” What the Ennegram folks term a type 2:
The Caring, Interpersonal Type
Generous, Demonstrative, People-Pleasing, and Possessive
Type Two in Brief
Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.
Basic Fear: Of being unwanted, unworthy of being loved
Basic Desire: To feel loved
Enneagram Two with a One-Wing: “Servant”
That’s the “pretty part” – here’s the not so pretty part:
However, Twos’ inner development may be limited by their “shadow side”—pride, self-deception, the tendency to become over-involved in the lives of others, and the tendency to manipulate others to get their own emotional needs met. Transformational work entails going into dark places in ourselves, and this very much goes against the grain of the Two’s personality structure, which prefers to see itself in only the most positive, glowing terms.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Twos, Threes, and Fours in their inner work is having to face their underlying Center fear of worthlessness. Beneath the surface, all three types of fear that they are without value in themselves, and so they must be or do something extraordinary in order to win love and acceptance from others. In the average to unhealthy Levels, Twos present a false image of being completely generous and unselfish and of not wanting any kind of pay-off for themselves, when in fact, they can have enormous expectations and unacknowledged emotional needs.
I know what you may be thinking, “thanks” for pasting all that stuff in this blog about you, but what does that have to do with creating tension in others?
It is this simple, when you are built like this, especially when you have not forced yourself into all those dark places and come out on the other side, you can avoid creating tension in a desire to be loved by everyone.
However, that is not real love. That is not “The Helper” at their best. The Helper at their best is about unconditional love. Luckily for me, as a Jesus Follower, breaking these natural tendencies, is one great way to live out my faith. In fact, as I learned more and more about following this Jesus dude, it became clear to me that he was continually creating tension everywhere he went.
However, He didn’t do it to create tension for tension’s sake. He did it to do exactly what so many of my mentors remind me of all the time, push situations and people out of a state of idle, downward spiral, rest, or complacency and into movement toward something Greater than themselves. You don’t have to share my faith to believe that we are all better off when we are moving in a more productive, healthy or loving direction.
I don’t think thought leader Seth Godin shares my faith, but he says it this way:
He is not alone of course. I first learned the lesson of being “ok with” and leveraging tension from both my pastor Jenn Williams and another pastor named Andy Stanley who talks about leveraging and managing through tension this way:
On a swing-set, you must do two things simultaneously in order for you to swing: kick-forward while leaning back. On the upswing, you then must reverse, kick-back while leaning forward. It is this tension between those two opposites that allow you to swing. The same is true for (our) ideas and practices. We must be able to do both well, and never really resolve them. In addition, perhaps it is wise for us to reverse our opinions once in while (or more frequent than that), so we can continue to move the conversation forward.
I’ve had too many conversations with people who only want one side, who only see the truth through their interpretive lens, and you can just feel in the conversation, we’re not getting anywhere.
Excerpted from Vialogue
In my “Helper” mode I had been guilty of letting the swing lay idle too often. When you want to be loved by everyone, you will avoid conflict, not out of maturity, but out of fear.
As Exhibit B, here is what another personality inventory I took several years ago said about me:
Even-tempered and tolerant, John constantly tries to be the diplomat. He excels in promoting
harmony around him. John is very co-operative and articulate, communicating sympathy, concern and a willingness to become involved. Usually verbal and persuasive, he will seek or wish to withdraw quickly from confrontation unless provoked to the extreme, when he may go “off the deep end” verbally.
(yet another pretty picture with an “ugly side”-right? Chillingly accurate-especially in my younger years)
Don’t get me wrong, there is no need to create conflict for conflict’s sake. There is no need to build or evoke tension in others or in a team, simply to “watch the fallout” or “light a fire in people.” No, the kind of tension I am talking about is the kind of healthy tension that helps people move toward the chasm of change and then take a leap. I am not simply hoping they’ll leap, ultimately I am hoping they will soar! (see what I did there? …Oops, am I seeking love and acceptance again? Dang it! 🙂 )
These days, I get to use the ‘verbal and persuasive” aspect to leverage and create opportunities to prompt people “over the other side of the chasm.” I have leadership roles in every aspect of my life. Most of them are pretty informal and “unofficial” just like the one I have as the “CEO” and “COO” of this blog. (I try to extend the “verbal” to written in this case 🙂 ) At work, I coach over a hundred people who have opportunities every day to create tension to move projects forward. In my church roles, I run into the very literal tension Andy is talking about above, with the challenge of balancing tensions like Grace and Truth, building relationships and organizing people, loving unconditionally and loving some people who are “hard to love.” Nonetheless, each arena provides openings, they provide playgrounds full of idle swings that are begging to be ridden, or people on swing sets asking me to swing alongside them, or in some cases, a swing rider, sitting idle, waiting to be pushed.
The communities we find ourselves in, the workplaces, the social spaces are filled with this opportunity for each of us. I know we are not all “Helpers” according to the Enneagram folks or “Motivating Inspirers” as my Insights profile calls me (I’m sure ultra positive labels like that sell a lot of profiles to many companies). The reality is we are each a messy mixture of personality aspects. Some of us are achievement-oriented, others are creatives, still others may be interested only in facts and data. Regardless of your type, we all have one thing in common, we are in this thing called life together. We have to interact with one another. If you believe as I do, we are called to (as my (unofficial) mentor Andy says) One Another, One Another.
That means not only loving one another, it also means unconditionally loving someone enough to get in the middle of some tension with them. It means creating or leveraging tension to help them grow. Not all the time. It is not a steamroller of tension for a reason, we are not meant to barrel in, pushing our viewpoint on others, no matter how well-intentioned we are. It is a swing… kick forward, lean back, lean forward, kick back, repeat.
Where are the idle swings in the playgrounds you frequent? Who needs you to swing beside them? Who needs a push? Who can you help leap the chasm and soar?