Today, I’m pleased to share a guest post written by Margy Stoner. Margy works part-time for Weaving Influence and part-time for her brother’s consumer electronics company, JacobsParts Inc. She enjoys collecting wild herbs, writing poetry, drinking vegetable juice, and hiking with her dog Tesla.
When I was a junior in high school, I took a class called “Relationships.” My friends and I assumed this would be an “easy-A” class about treating others well, serving the less privileged, and other principles that were repeatedly stressed in our Jesuit Education. Little did I know, however, that much of the study of “relationships” deals with our relationships with ourselves.
It was in this class where I was first introduced to the Enneagram. We were given a self-assessment, which asked us various questions to help us determine our types. Then, the teacher told us that no matter what the assessment said, it’s ultimately up to each person to determine his or her type. For a few weeks, my friends and I discussed our types, but once the class ended, I forgot about the Enneagram for a while.
Fast forward a few years. I am studying abroad in Jerusalem. I’m spending the Sabbath at a friends apartment—a few of us are eating chips and playing guitar late into the night. Somehow, the Enneagram comes up. For the next few days, my friends and I excitedly take a variety of personality tests. The Enneagram, of course, but also the Belbin test, Meyers-Briggs, and others. We laugh about our “compatibility” with our friends and family, and dream about how our test results can help us become rich—become scholars—become the kind of people that overcome their own flaws and rise above everything they though they could be.
And though it was fun learning so much about our compatibility with others, I think that what intrigued us so much about those tests is something quite universal: the desire to know ourselves.
Yes, we spend every moment of our lives with ourselves. We live inside our bodies, our heads. And yet, so much time is spent interacting with the external world to the extent that sometimes, we forget who we are. We become blind to our strengths and our weaknesses, we measure ourselves against those around us.
Understanding our personalities from a (somewhat) objective perspective allows us, in effect, to step outside of ourselves, to recognize, without judgment, the patterns by which we live our lives. This, I believe, is the power of The Enneagram, or for that manner, any person or tool that helps us to better understand ourselves.
Two of the friends I was with that night in Jerusalem, Nomi and Ilan, are now married. I visited them last year and found, on their coffee table, a book about The Enneagram. Nomi is Israeli—she has lived in Jerusalem her whole life. Ilan is from Chicago—he moved to Israel when he was 24 years old. Though they certainly connect on many levels, “we struggled with some cultural differences,” Nomi explained, “but reading about the Enneagram really helped!” Ilan agreed. “It helped us see our differences in a less personal way…and helped us bond spiritually too,” he said.
I often hear people say “I don’t want to be labeled,” or “I refuse to put myself in a category.” I understand this sentiment—no one wants to be told that they are just this or just that. But I don’t think assessing yourself has to be limiting. In fact, I think that for any of us to undergo real change, perhaps the greatest struggle in this life, we must recognize our strengths and flaws, and we must be gentle and patient with ourselves.
It’s been seven years since I sat down in that high school class, thinking I knew everything I needed to about relationships. Obviously, I didn’t. In fact, I feel like I know a lot less now than I did then. Now, when I struggle to relate to someone else, I try to look at myself—at my reactions to others, and to determine what tangible steps can be taken to remedy the situation. Sometimes this is really hard, because so often I don’t really want to look at myself, to see my actions for what they really are.
We’ve got our whole lives to look out into the world, but we must remember to also look inside ourselves, and, to look at ourselves. The Enneagram is one tool that helps us do this, and there are many others. Most importantly, though, is a sincere desire to, as Socrates so passionately declared, “Know Thyself.”
What helps you get to know yourself?
How does knowing yourself help you to better relate to others?