Ann Voskamp said it in her book The Way of Abundance, and the words sink deep: “We will never reflect the image of Christ to the world unless we first see the image of God in everyone.” I look out across my street remembering with a tang of sadness the years I lived near neighbors without really knowing them—without seeing the image of God in them.
Open. I seek now to live open: Open heart, open front door, open to being vulnerable, to letting my neighbors in close like family, to letting the work God is doing in me seep into the cracks and crevasses of doing everyday life alongside my neighbors.
Aren’t we all just nine diverse kinds of normal, if we look at our neighborhood through the lens of the Enneagram, and as such an array of nine unique aspects of God’s image? Instead of letting our differences disconnect us like scattered pieces of a puzzle, might we see beauty in the puzzle we form when we are together? Enneagram lovers and those curious but largely unfamiliar with this personality typing tool alike—let’s dream of what could be together.
A neighborhood that becomes our village—connected community caring for each other, a recipe for empathy that fosters understanding and grace for our neighbors; an ancient tool that sheds light on the humanity and intrinsic value of those different than us who we live next to.
The Enneagram itself is not a new tool—in fact, it is quite old, and its contributors have presumably come from an expanse of historical periods and religions. How fitting that what we can unpack about the Enneagram today has been a truly collaborative effort when we consider that a byproduct of studying the Enneagram is an enhanced ability to see from other perspectives. Seeking to better understand the other eight Enneagram numbers—the other types of normal—makes it just that much easier to cultivate community right in our own neighborhoods.
Look up and down your street for a moment. What jumps out at you? Can you pick out the garage door with the peeling paint? The walls through which the loud music often pounds or the direction from which a car alarm intermittently rakes across the silence of the night? The dog that makes a break for the door on the regular or leaves behind a gift by your mailbox? The voices that are loud, the behaviors that seem odd, the people who remain hidden behind closed doors and curtained windows?
It’s easy to draw conclusions of our neighbors based on the little slivers of their lives that are visible to us and then let those perceived differences drive us apart. However, when we assess our neighbors but only possess a minuscule sliver of the whole of who they are, we fall into assumption-drawing and effectively reduce valued, multi-faceted people to one-dimensional, cursory depictions. Operating out of the surface understanding available to us, these slivers of our neighbor’s lives can quickly become frustrations that chisel at the interest we may have once had in getting to know our neighbors.
Yet if we begin instead with a deeply rooted belief that each and every neighbor reflects a piece of God, our judgment softens, our guarded stance relaxes, and we seek to understand instead of assume, honor instead of avoid.
That’s why I love the Enneagram so much—because it emphasizes the value in all people, all the while pushing each of us on a trajectory of growth.
It levels the playing field because we are all working on something, working to overcome what our unhealthy natural bents are; it matters less then that what you are working on is not exactly the same thing as what trips me up.
Suzanne Stabile, who is referred to as the Enneagram god-mother, emphasizes that “to honor our relationships, we all need to watch for the things that seem important from our point of view but end up causing separation between us and the people we care about” in her book The Path Between Us. We all have tendencies that drive wedges in our relationships if we are not careful; the power is in our hands to use our differences to draw us together rather than keep us apart.
One way learning the Enneagram can contribute to the creation of community in our neighborhoods is through filling needs that arise amongst our neighbors. We need the justice-minded 1s and 8s who together can identify what is amiss (1s) and not rest until the problem has been addressed (8s).
We would be wise to invite along a 4 to sit with a grief-stricken neighbor and feel their sadness with them. We need the relational, service-oriented 2s to go to town reading where the hurts are.
We need the 5s who will not leave a leaf unturned in choosing the best replacement product or systematic approach, the enthusiastic 7s who will jump in with no reservation and simultaneously make the project more fun, the 6s who push us to think through possible outcomes we would never have imagined, the vision-casting 3s to be the name and face of the operation, and the 9s who can gently encourage everyone to approach the situation with multiple perspectives in mind.
Neighbors helping neighbors is a tangible reflection of the way God loves each of us; further, serving together bonds us together through a common mission and a shared experience, and is thus invaluable at community-building.
We don’t call out Enneagram types for others because it’s not good Enneagram etiquette, but as we learn to see our neighbors as diverse reflections of God Himself, we start valuing individuals and noticing little things that matter to them. These details may hint at their Enneagram types.
We might have an inkling suspicion that the neighbor with the impeccably manicured lawn has an incessant internal critic that never stops its tirade. Instead of comparing, envying, or stifling a snicker, we may instead be compelled to sympathize with how wearing always hearing that voice could be.
Perhaps you have a neighbor vocal about all the things that are wrong, and you simply don’t get their negativity. Instead of avoiding this neighbor, you might ponder what it could feel like to face life often having the worst-case-scenario staring you in the face. Though the shoes you are trying on may not have the owner you think they do, you are still learning to appreciate the way these loyal individuals are the super glue that holds so many broken pieces of our world together. Even if our unvoiced guesses at our neighbors’ possible Enneagram types are wrong, it postures us to seek first to understand, and a desire to understand ignites empathy and draws people together.
Another way Enneagram awareness can multiply our neighborhood community-building efforts is through fostering vulnerability. As vulnerability is a pre-requisite to connection, this is big. If you have already begun a journey of learning the Enneagram, you are familiar with its eerie accuracy in reading the deep things within you that motivate your way of seeing. We see our failures, wounding messages we’ve had in our back pocket since we were kids, and all the ways we don’t see the whole picture on our own—this births vulnerability. Feeling exposed and small is uncomfortable, but if we linger here and mine the insight available, we will find that it’s easier for others to connect with us when we are humble and authentic. We want real. And real is what could be available to us in our relationships with our neighbors if we are willing ourselves to be real rather than perfect.
The neighbors who have joined us for meals around the unassumingly exquisite farmhouse table our next-door neighbor built for us come not because our home is perfect, or because we are perfect—they come because they feel welcome in the middle of what is our real, ordinary life.
They know we want them to be part of it. When there is a knock at the door and the crumbs are still visible, the potty-training toddler is hollering for more reward candy from the bathroom, and I’ve failed to maintain peace between my sassy Enneagram 8 daughter and her big sister, who is an emotional 4, I let my neighbors into the mess. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real, and it’s an invitation for me to be humble and vulnerable because the connection matters more than the impression I make.
I want to thank you for dreaming with me—dreaming of authenticity, vulnerability, humility, empathy and serving through practical offerings of love, and how this might transform your neighborhood. We long to be understood, seen, known—connected, yet the last place we often look is right in front of us. No matter our history or where we are today, we can begin afresh with Enneagram insight as we seek to do life in community with neighbors who are different types of normal than us.
** If you would like to continue learning about the Enneagram, here are some resources I recommend as you journey and dream: Books—The Road Back to You (Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile) and The Path Between Us (Suzanne Stabile). Podcasts—The Enneagram Journey (Suzanne Stabile), The Enneacast (Love Thy Neighbor), and the “Enneasummer 2019” series on That Sounds Fun (Annie F. Downs).