Madrid by Instinct

Mario Sikora
Oct 16, 2011

I’ve just returned from 10 days in Madrid, one of my favorite cities, where I did a five-day training on the Enneagram for Coaches and also got to do a bit of sight-seeing. The time off in this enchanted place was much needed after four full days of meetings in Frankfurt and Munich.

I travel a lot for my work, and I’m often asked about the “type” of a place when I return from outside the US. I’m usually reluctant to make an assessment for two reasons:

First, the idea of modal personality–that groups have an identifiable and consistent dominant personality style–is a bit fuzzy and not fully accepted in anthropology. Culture is a messy, complex thing and it is not so easy to put a simple label on a whole country’s culture. Further, there really no reason to automatically assume that just because the Enneagram works on the individual level it will work on the group level. It may, and there is certainly some anecdotal support that it does, but it seems like there is much less support for consistent Ennea-type at the modal personality level than there is for Ennea-type on an individual level. That said, some countries’ cultures seem to scream out a particular Enneagram type, such as Switzerland and Ennea-type One. Further, many of my friends from outside the US take great glee in telling me how “Three-ish” the US is; an assessment that is difficult for me to deny.
The second reason for my hesitation is that it is very easy to jump to a conclusion after a short visit to a place. It is an occupational hazard for those of us who use the Enneagram to try to type everyone and everything. Maslow was right–when you are a hammer everything is a nail. Such efforts to type are not necessarily ill-advised or harmful as long as we hold our assessments lightly. That said, since a culture is so complex I am hesitant jump to conclusions–even those held lightly–regarding cultures that I do not fully understand.
Thus, caveats firmly in place, I would like to share an Enneagram-related observation about Madrid. I won’t speak for all of Spain because as most Spaniards will tell you, it is a country of very different places (it reminds me a great deal of Italy, Switzerland, and, well, the US, in this regard). My observation is based on five visits over the past two years totaling about 8 weeks in the region.
The truth is, I have no clue what Ennea-type Madrilenians are, but I have a good feel for their instinct and it seems Social to me. (I’ve written before why I don’t use the standard term “Social” in most of my work, and from here on out I will use the term “Navigating” in it’s place. Click here for an article explaining my rationale and here for a video.)

Contrary to much of the writing about the Enneagram subtypes or instincts, we don’t have three instincts; like most creatures we have many instincts though they do seem to cluster into three domains. Typically, these domains are called “self-preservation,” “social,” and “sexual.” I refer to them as “preserving,” “navigating,” and “transmitting.”

The Navigating domain comprises a cluster of instincts that increase our chances of surviving and reproducing by helping us understand and participate in the social arena. Navigators (those of each Ennea-type who have a bias toward this instinct domain) are not necessarily the most “social” people–many of them are introverts (the author included)–but they like to be around people if not necessarily engaged with them. Navigators want to know what is going on around them. They like gossip, wanting to know who is doing what with whom and why. They prefer to hear other people’s stories and will tell stories, but their stories are not typically about themselves; they are about other people, books, movies, ideas, or places. Navigators reveal enough about themselves to allow them to be accepted by the group but not so much that they will end up being rejected by the group. In short, this domain of instincts allows us to find our place in the pecking order and establish relationships based on trust and reciprocity. It does so by equipping us with innate tools for understanding and orienting to the group.

During my time in Spain I’ve been fortunate enough to spend many, many hours wandering the streets from the Prado to La Latina, across to Puerta del Sol through Santa Ana and up to Gran Via. I’ve even attended that quintessential Madrilenian experience, the bullfights at Las Ventas. I’ve supped with the ghost of Hemingway at Cerveceria Alemana and could swear I heard the scribblings of Cervantes echoing down from his apartment to the bar in Casa Alberto below. I have many good friends there who are helpful in guiding me on what to see and helping me understand what I am looking at.

The characteristic about Madrilenians that jumps out is the need to be out and about. Madrilenians live the culture of the public square, and the outsider is always awed by the the number of people out strolling in the streets and the squares. They stand in the streets and talk, the stroll arm in arm and talk, they drop into the cafes and cervecerias and talk over canas and tapas. They sit outdoors and watch as others stroll by and they share their observations on what they see. They strike up conversations with strangers on the Metro and the buses very comfortably.

In a large but not-New-York-large city, people are everywhere, and they are everywhere all the time (well, at least after 9 am or so). The photo accompanying this post was snapped near midnight on a Sunday at Puerto del Sol, where I was stunned by the sea of people out and about at well past what would normally be my bedtime.

At the same time–again consistent with the tendencies of individuals who are Navigator–Madrilenians generally maintain a slight reserve; there is always something held back and the friendliness is a guarded one. They are open but prepared to close. They are happy to meet you in the public square at any time, but you don’t get invited into their homes. Like all Navigators, they don’t open the curtain too wide.

It is easy to build a case for any assessment based on confirmatory evidence, so I hold this assessment lightly and future visits may change my view. I’ve spent some time in other cities that gave me a sense of a dominant instinctual bias as well; Milan seems like a Transmitting culture (where better to place the center of fashion….) and Frankfurt–plain, unadorned Frankfurt–seems like a Preserving culture (where better to place the European Central Bank….). It is an interesting thought experiment and analyzing a people’s modal characteristics is a good way to hone our assessment skills but, again, we should proceed with caution. 

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