What's Tony Thinking

Notes of a Skeptic


While it is the eve of the mid-term election, I need a break from politics. So I’m writing about something else entirely.

For my birthday, my daughter Laura gave me a book titled, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. The authors are Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Laura and her colleagues at Plymouth Church Des Moines have been using it with lay people involved in care and compassion ministries at the church.

I tend to be a skeptic about both self-help literature and about various personality typing systems, whether the MMPI, Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram.

That’s sort of just the way I’m wired about anything that purports to be “the answer.” I say, “Really?”

So I was surprised to find Cron and Stabile’s book, which might be called, “Enneagram Made Easy” to be enlightening. I had previously tried to work through Richard Rohr’s book on the enneagram, but kept getting bogged down as if in high grass.

I won’t undertake an explanation of the Enneagram, because I’d probably lose you, if not myself, in the high grass. Suffice it to say that it describes nine “types,” which are really ways of perceiving the world. These shape how we see life, ourselves and others.

In the concluding chapter the authors write about a nurse who works with children who experience a severe visual impairment. When meeting with a child’s parents she gives them eyeglasses that correlate to their child’s specific disability. “Almost always, the parent bursts into tears. ‘I had no idea that this is the way my child sees the world,’ they tell her.”

Their point is perhaps obvious. We all see through a particular lens. Being aware of this we may have greater compassion for others and ourselves.

“If we could all have nine pairs of Enneagram glasses and swap them, we could be moved to extend infinitely more grace and understanding to one another. Such compassion is the foundation of relationships. It changes everything.”

While on our recent trip in Scotland and Wales, Linda and I spent some time reading to one another about our “types” and asking each other what rang true. That, as well as reading the book, did increase the amount of compassion and appreciation we hold for one other.

Honing in on my type, “Five: The Investigator,” also helped me to understand a critical choice I made in my 20’s. I was, at the time, in graduate school. Would I go on for a PhD and become a professor or would I head to seminary and answer a call to the ministry? I pulled back from the doctoral/ scholar path because I sensed that for me this might heighten what turns out to be one of the downsides of the investigator type, which is to stand back from life.

I sensed, rightly I believe, that I needed a path in life and vocation that got me more, not less, engaged with life’s complexities and confusions. Well, the ministry did that pretty well!

That said, one of the reasons that I was reasonably effective as both a pastoral leader and later as a church consultant was my “investigator’s” ability to stand back and figure out what was going on amid the complexity of a congregation’s life.

Cron and Stabile quote the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: “When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”

That last bit reminds me of Martin Luther King’s words — words of which I reminded myself often as a pastor — “Those whom we would change, we must first love.” Really, I think the love allows people to make their own changes.

Of course, acknowledging the truth of such sentiments and practicing them are two different things. The Road Back to You has helped me practice them. So I recommend it.

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