silhouette of man and woman on hill

Virtues, Vices, and Relationships

by Jerome Wagner, Ph. D.

In the Enneagram system, virtues are said to be nine manifestations of love cleanly expressed while vices are appearances of love distorted or corrupted.  Since love can be directed both at ourself and towards others, the virtues are good for our relationship with ourself and with others.

So, which is a better attitude and disposition for your relationship with yourself and with others:

Serenity or Anger and Resentment?

Serenity is the acceptance part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  I start from where I’m at.  I’m aware and I’m not judging.  Or, at least, I’m aware of my judging and also accept that part of me. I have been granted the wisdom of knowing what I can change and what I can’t change and which is which.  I can meet you as you are and love you without an urgency to fix you.  That might come, but only if needed and if asked.  And I’m OK just as I am right now.  I don’t have to berate myself and beat myself up.  Serenity creates an environment of calm reception and welcomes relationships.  A serene attitude and approach to oneself and others facilitates understanding and connection.

Resentment is the judgment that nothing is the way it should be.   And that includes you, the world, and especially me.  Resentment has been called a “hanging on bite.”  It gets in the way of the dog enjoying and being nourished by the bone.  So, you need to either drop it and let it go or express it and bite all the way through.  Resentment hangs on and is like swallowing cyanide and waiting for the other person to die.  The only person who is burning up inside is the resentor.  Resentment seriously gets between people.  And it doesn’t encourage self-love, either.

Humility or Pride?

Humility is the reality principle.  Here’s who I am.  I have strengths and I have limitations.  I am a “wounded healer.”   I like to give and I graciously accept your gifts.  I believe “It is more blessed to give and to receive.”  This humble honesty and vulnerability genuinely helps relationships.  Humility is really self-care.  It is able to ask for and accept what you need.   And humility doesn’t infantilize others by helping them when they don’t need help or by not allowing others to support you.  Humility treats all as interdependent vs. overly dependent or independent.

Pride puffs one up.  “I give and you receive.”  I’m the helper and you are the helpee.  I don’t have needs – or, at least, I’m not allowed to acknowledge them or be needy.   So, I have to manipulate you to give me what I am not permitted to ask for.  Besides, “If you loved me, you would know what I need.”   After all, I can figure out what you need.   Why can’t you do the same?  Pride gets in the way of figuring out, acknowledging, and getting what you need and it can be off-putting rather than inviting for others.

Truthfulness or Vanity?

With Truthfulness, what you see is what you get.  The outer image accurately portrays the inner self.  Truthfulness involves self-expression vs. image-management.  My authentic self connects with your authentic self vs. our two egos running their routines.  A genuine I-Thou relationship requires two genuine people, not two personalities doing their number.  Our personality can only manage a You-You or It-It transaction vs. a life-giving encounter.

Vanity says “Look at me.”   Or, rather, “Look at my persona, my presentation, my projects, my works.”  It likes to get attention instead of make a connection.   Vanity confuses networking, “How can we use each other in our work?” with selfless connection, “How can we love and respect each other in ourselves?”  Vanity deceives us into thinking we are our image or persona and tricks others into believing the same.  The problem is our persona is only a pale reflection of out essence, like the shadow images in Plato’s myth of the cave.  So, vanity keeps us and others from knowing and enjoying who we really are.

Equanimity or Envy?  

Equanimity acknowledges that we are all equal.  It’s not judgmental and doesn’t compare.  It admires and appreciates our own parcel of talents and recognizes and encourages the gifts of others.  “If you spot it, you’ve got it.”  We wouldn’t recognize others’ qualities (both good and bad) if we didn’t have some traces of those traits in ourselves. Equanimity honors both differences and sameness.  We can be at once unique, as the song says: “There will never be another you;” and ordinary (we are all more alike than different) in our relationships.

Envy is that dreaded odious comparison.  It looks upon others with despair, unlike Ozymandias. 
“You’ve got it and I don’t and I feel sad about that.  Also, I’d like to get it out of you and into me.”  Or envy may look on others with delight: “I’m better than you.  I’ve got it and you don’t.”  Envy isn’t good for either end of our relationships.  One of us has to feel inferior and bad.

Non-attachment or Avarice?

Non-attachment means you are not glued to your expectations, preconceptions, categories, etc.  “Give up your preconceptions and surrender to your destiny,” as we were told by my Enneagram teacher Bob Ochs.  When you are not attached, you can stay in the present and not be bound by the past or future.  “Right now I have everything I need to be perfectly happy.”  I don’t have to store up and hold on. I freely give what I have freely received.  I believe, with the poet Milton, that goodness, the more given, the more abundant grows.  Non-attachment, paradoxically, fosters an abundance mentality.

Avarice means you are focused on your constructs and fantasies about the person in front of you instead of the real person themself.  Your categories get between you and others.  You are attached to your privacy and to your stinginess about sharing yourself — especially your feelings and energy.  You hold back and hide out rather than connect with your whole self in the present, unmediated by your preconceptions.  Avarice deprives others of your goodness and it deprives you of others’ goodness.  No wonder it leads to a deprivation mentality.

Courage or Fear?

Courage means being afraid but doing what you need to do anyway.  It’s the courage to connect with your inner authority, your inner self, and the courage to connect with others’ real selves.  Courage comes from the French coeur, heart.   When two hearts connect, there is no fear. Courage supports trust – in oneself and in the other.  I trust that you have my best interests at heart; I have my best interests at heart; and I have your best interests at heart.  We have each other’s backs.  We’re covered.

Fear exaggerates the dangers in the world.  It leads to self-doubt and turning to others for confirmation and protection or turning away from others to protect ourself.  Fear doesn’t believe the odd notion that nothing can hurt our essence.  On the contrary, it’s afraid that everything can harm us and we need to do all we can to prepare for the worst.  Fear puts a barrier between I and Thou.   It can defensively move us towards others to get close.  “If you love me, you won’t hurt me.” Or fear may move us away from others, in flight; or against others, in fight.

Sobriety or Gluttony?

Sobriety means balance, being sensible, savoring the present moment.  It doesn’t need to fly into the future which cuts off enjoyment in the present.  Sobriety takes in only what we need and expends only as much energy as is needed. Sobriety doesn’t grab or gobble up. It appreciates moderation.  It doesn’t go to excess.  It doesn’t wear us out or tire out the others in our life.  Stillness and silence can surprisingly support relationships, as well as alliteration. 

Gluttony is an intense swallowing of fantasies or schemes or pleasures or whatever you can get your hands on.  More is better.  Moderation is boring.  Gluttony exhausts you and your companions.  It satiates but rarely satisfies.  Gluttony is ego-satisfying but not self-nourishing.  Gluttony can move on from person to person, seeking new experiences and adventures.  It turns a potential I-Thou relationship into an It-It relationship.  We are here to satisfy each other’s pleasure.  A good start, but doesn’t lead to long-lasting relationships.

Innocence or Lust?

Innocence means coming to each person and situation with “beginner’s mind”, a childlike curiosity, wonder, and openness.  Innocence approaches each person without prejudgment, without expectation, without exploitation.  Innocence, from the Latin in nocens, means not harming.  “Why would I want to harm you?  And why would you want to harm me?”  Innocence doesn’t beat up on ourself and it doesn’t punish anyone else.  It invites coming close behavior and not fighting or running away reactions.

Lust or an excessive intensity wants to fill up an inner emptiness with whatever it can find.  It can treat the self and others brutishly.  It doesn’t express a gentle caring and concern but more an attitude of “What’s in it for me?”  This way of being in the world remembers past hurts and anticipates being controlled and taken advantage of.  Ironically, lust itself uses people up by being grabby and squeezing the life out of people. Lust might be good for short-term encounters but doesn’t support long-term relationships.

Action or Acedia?

Action is love expressed as gratitude for being loved and blessed.  Right action says: “Thank you.  And what can I do in return?”  Pay it forward.  Not as a quid pro quo: ”I’ll help you and then you have to help me.”  Rather, I have something to offer – primarily myself but also my actions.  Action works on behalf of oneself and others.

Acedia, on the other hand, is not acting, not taking care of business.  Indolence is opposed to “Gettin’ it done.”  Think of the nine activating their inner Three to get moving.  Inaction results from the belief that “I don’t matter and neither do you.”  So, let’s take the day off and fritter away our time with non-essentials, inconsequentials, diversions, and see what tomorrow brings.  Probably, not much.  Acedia is self-neglect and over-accommodating others.  Go along to get along.  But maybe good relationships need to hear what you have to say and what you need.  Negotiation takes two sets of needs.  Compromise only needs one.

3 replies
  1. Jim Thomson
    Jim Thomson says:

    Great and very timely article!! At a time when it seems our society as a whole is yielding to our base instincts, this serves as a reminder that there is another way! And the nod to ACT did not go unnoticed! 🙂


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