Don’t bet everything on the heart (Dec. 11, 2019 issue)

Hi friends,

Last week I repaired the dishwasher, took two boys to Lice Knowing You, and planted a tree. But enough about me. Let’s talk about our hearts, his impeachment, your sanity, and why I love the Enneagram despite the risks of misuse.

Don’t bet everything on the heart

Master difficult conversations

Learn my best tips for staying cool under pressure and elevating your leadership in complex times.


When it comes to encouraging the heart, I’m all in. But let’s not overstate what the heart alone can do. You’ve heard the advice: get clear on your intentions, and the rest with follow. Many leadership teachers offer a rendition of this. Jerry Colonna, author of Reboot and “the coach who makes CEOs weep”, says, “If you know your heart, you’ll know your way to the how.”

This is an appealing and elegant formulation. And, God knows, we all could use more heart. But life is more complex than this. Better results require more than good intentions.

It’s just like fried eggs. Our sons like theirs a particular way: with soft yolks but no “gooey white stuff.” I love my sons, so when they complain about their food, it hurts. I am one hundred percent committed in my heart to producing soft yolks with no gooey white stuff. But do I produce this result every time?

No, I don’t, and here’s why: good intentions aren’t enough. Competence also matters.

I assume that Colonna knows this. He didn’t get where he is today without extraordinary skill. Yet he, and many others I admire, continue spreading this misleading message.

Can we encourage the heart without betting the whole farm on it?

One way is through conversation skill drills. You start by clarifying your intention—by tapping into your heart. This isn’t the finish line. It’s the first step. What comes next are hours of deliberate conversation practice: speaking and listening from this clear intention. After all, the heart isn’t separate from what we do. It’s meant to be integrated into our words, tone, breath, and mood. This is how Colonna’s reboot happens and how you grow.

Why bipartisan impeachment isn’t possible, but regaining your sanity is

  1. A bipartisan impeachment vote would be dandy, but first we’d need a bipartisan embrace of facts and evidence. Right now, one party swears by empiricism (yet often forgets it’s in a street fight). The other party favors the sucker punch and wants you to forget the Enlightenment ever happened. The two parties hold different worldviews and are having completely different conversations. This isn’t a problem that civility can solve. We need collective growth. Mainstream Democrats need to re-embrace the mythic dimension so they can craft narratives that touch the heart and land in the gut. Progressives need to realize that nobody is “woke”, that waking up is a practice that never ends. The Republicans need to grow out of the cult of personality around Mr. Trump and grow into reason.
  2. This is a crazy moment, and you may think you’re crazy, but you’re not. In fact, the more soberly you see the forces at work under the surface, the more sane you will feel. It begins with your own experience. First, you watched the Democrats present the evidence calmly and methodically. They spoke of sacred duty, practiced restraint. Utterly reasonable. Then you heard the Republicans accuse those same Democrats of being “hysterical” and abusing power. Say what? Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a total mind-fuck. (I use F-bombs sparingly. This moment calls for it). And that’s precisely the point. Mr. Trump and the party he now commands can’t win with reason and truth, so they have to act unreasonably and push you to question what’s true. Not coincidentally, this is Putin’s strategy: not just to lie, but to challenge the very notion of truth. Not simply to be corrupt, but to prove that everyone is corrupt. If you can’t win with facts about today or visions for tomorrow, you create bafflement about yesterday. As you read these words, you might briefly feel deflated, but that’s a positive step beyond blindness, and it won’t last long. My goal isn’t to depress but to help you see. A lot of crazy things are happening. You may be confounded by them, but you’re not crazy.

Reader Q&A: The Enneagram

Q: I have an unease about the Enneagram (or any other tool that types people) which you refer to sometimes. Those tools strike me as shallow given how complex humans are but I see you as a guy with a lot of depth. Am I missing something?—Mark

A: Wonderful question. Many people who value depth feel uneasy about the Enneagram and other typologies, and understandably so. These models are ripe for misuse. The most harmful misuse is labeling someone—based on that person’s own self-identification or your quick assessment—and then badgering them with the label. A second misuse, more common and seemingly innocuous, is using the Enneagram to rationalize your own bad habits. “The reason I don’t make firm commitments is that I’m a Seven. This is what Sevens do.” Presto! You’re off the hook. Or ”The Enneagram says that Eights don’t show vulnerability, so why would I want to open up to you like that?” There is no malicious intent, but the result is reinforcing bad habits by strengthening existing neural pathways. Holy Reification, Batman!

Despite these risks, I use the Enneagram with clients and write about it. Here’s why: when accessed with depth, it’s a powerful and flexible framework for growth. Unlike Myers-Briggs, whose ambition ends with mutual appreciation of difference, the Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box. It shows you the box you put yourself in every day—and how to get out of it. For example, in 2001 I typed myself as a Six, the Loyal Skeptic. The lesson wasn’t that I’m anxious and pessimistic, and that’s just how life is. Instead, I learned that I am subject to a narrative in which the world is a scary place, others are asleep at the wheel, so I have to be vigilant. This isn’t me. It’s who I take myself to be. A made-up story. The box I put myself into every day.

Over the years, I’ve learned ways of getting out of this box. Step one is to catch myself telling the same old story. Bob Kegan calls this making object what was once subject. Instead of the narrative having me, I have the narrative. I dis-identify with it. Then something amazing happens. I start to integrate the finest qualities (and sometimes not-so-fine qualities!) of other types: the heart-filled generosity of the Two, the emotional depth of the Four, the serenity of the Nine, and so on. This is the opposite of rigid typecasting. It’s a flexible and integrated approach to living. This is why I use the Enneagram.

Cheerfully real,
Amiel Handelsman

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