The German Co-Pilot: Toward a Vertical Mental Health Metric

I was touched the other day when I read that the man who trained the German pilot who recently deliberately crashed a plane with 150 people on board has received death threats.  How could this man have any way of knowing what his future student was capable of?

  Andreas Lubitz, the German co-pilot who crashed a plane into the French Alps.   Photo from The New York Times

Andreas Lubitz, the German co-pilot who crashed a plane into the French Alps.  Photo from The New York Times

I think there's a shift that needs to happen- and has been happening- in these discussions about terrorists and mass murderers that have been shocking us month after month for the last decade or so- school shooters, movie-theatre shooters, marathon bombers, ISIS terrorists, Nigerian terrorists, etc.  Not to think of them as essentially evil as in the dualistic black and white polarity, as falling to the far right on some horizontal spectrum, like an antiquated duality of good people versus bad people. 

To me, it would be more helpful if we thought of humanity as being on a vertical scale of emotional health- like on Don Riso's scale of the nine levels of health- even if it means saying the prevailing culture of an entire country is in the unhealthy levels- like those in civil wars- at least it puts the conversation in an emotional intelligence frame of reference instead of a good versus evil framework.  The former gives us something to work with in the secular sphere.  The latter- with a decidedly religious overtones- recalls witchhunts and holy wars. 

Sometimes after talking briefly about the nine types with someone, they'll say, "Which type is the asshole?  Because I've got a brother-in-law who ...".  The point of the Enneagram is that any type can be an asshole- sure we might have different adjectives- bitchy, needy clingy, heartless.  And at their worst, if we continued to descend down the levels, each type is capable of committing horrendous acts.  It's grace (and there are different ways of interpreting that word) that keeps us in the average levels.  (It's surprising when you hear Don and Russ say that 99% of the world's population is in the average levels.  After a while you get it.  There might be .5% in the healthy levels and .5% in the unhealthy levels- and that's probably an overestimation.)

Talking about personality types is healthy because it helps us all see how every, teeny tiny decision we make in every day lives are a response to one core fear- as Don Riso and Russ Hudson calls them- our red flag fears, and what happens when we repeatedly come up to that red flag fear and make the wrong decision?  We descend down the levels of health. 

On a vertical spectrum that we're all capable of scaling in either direction, we might find we have a greater capacity for compassion for those who have unconsciously flailed their way through the decision-making process and found themselves imprisoned at the very bottom.

For the sake of the sanity of our societies and the future of our planet, we need to frame crime in terms of emotional health on a vertical scale of emotional intelligence.  I think it opens up more possibility for discussion, compassion, and more of a vocabulary around healing.