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This Is the Tool That Totally Changed My Life in Community

Attitudes of a Community Developer

In my office, I have a poster hanging on the wall. It’s based on a list that I stole from Bryant Myers’ book Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development(By the way, that book is basically essential reading for anyone interested in faith-based approaches to alleviating poverty.) The list is titled “Attitudes of a Development Practitioner” and includes the following eleven imperatives:

  1. Be a good neighbor.
  2. Be patient.
  3. Stay humble before facts.
  4. Everyone is learning.
  5. Everywhere is holy.
  6. Every moment and every action is potentially transforming.
  7. Love people, not programs.
  8. Love the church.
  9. Cultivate a repentant spirit.
  10. Be a person dependent on God.
  11. Ask “whose reality counts?”

Trying to practice the attitudes above changes your view of other people. This is especially important because working in communities experiencing poverty provides constant temptation to fixate on brokenness, to feel superior, to be impatient, and to become cynical rather than hopeful.

But I like this list because it reminds me that every place I go is a community. Every interaction is a chance to practice the attitudes above… or not.

 

The Tool that Changed How I Live in Community

Life in community is hard. So I seek out every tool I can to help me be a good neighbor.

I first discovered the Enneagram through friends while I was in college. I learned that the Enneagram is a personality-type system for understanding your core motivations. And how they impact you and your relationships. (Look it up if you haven’t already!)

Then I took the test and basically bribed family, friends, and roommates to do the same. Eventually, I became something of an Enneagram apologist.

So what made me such an enthusiastic advocate of the Enneagram?

My Enneagram personality type is known for a number of qualities. Among those characteristics are energy, drive, pragmatism, and ambition. My type is known for dedication, achievement, and not, notably, for empathy.

The thing about people is that we all interpret each other’s behaviors and attribute motives based on how we ourselves think and imagine that we would behave. 

This can lead to all kinds of problems. Misunderstandings. Hurt feelings over assumed motives. Tension in work and relationships. Working through these differences is part of life in community. But I have found that the Enneagram is also enormously helpful for thinking about other people complexly. For being to imagine why a decision that I see as totally illogical or unkind might have seemed both logical and generous to someone else. Or why one member of my team might respond to criticism differently than other person receiving the same feedback.

In fact, I believe that the Enneagram offers a good framework for cultivating humility. For not assuming that my viewpoint is necessarily “right.” And for viewing different perspectives as natural and valuable instead of threatening.

And I think this has made me a better member of every community I inhabit.

A Personality Test Skeptic but Enneagram Advocate

The Enneagram does fall into the same personality test category as the pseudoscientific Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and other personality tests. Personality tests like Strength Finders are popular among HR departments and leadership teams. The Enneagram, which has been around for decades, is currently enjoying huge popularity among faith institutions in the United States.

Yet while these typology tools have endured despite criticism from psychologists and legitimate skepticism from those in the general public. Although I generally consider myself a person of science and express skepticism about the (lack of) scientific validity of tests like the MBTI. But I need to confess.

My experiences have made me into an Enneagram advocate.

Putting Attitudes Into Practice

The Enneagram encourages me to practice development “attitudes.” It challenges how I think about and respond to other people. Ultimately, strong community comes from “loving others as yourself” in patience, humility, excitement about transformation, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Enneagram is just one way that I have found to help me appreciate others and value diversity in community.

Interested in taking the Enneagram and learning your type? There are a variety of resources out there to help you learn your type or read about the test! I recommend starting out with The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery or reading some of the resources offered by the Enneagram Institute.