Do You See the Person or their Actions?

This afternoon I stumbled on a quick, free version of the Enneagram test, which is a personality indicator test, and I decided to complete it. I have always wondered what number I am on the Enneagram but had never before had a chance to find out. (For the record, I appear to be a 2.)

One of the 36 questions on this free, 10-minute version of the test asks you to determine which of these two statements better represents yourself:

  • I have been more relationship-oriented than goal-oriented.
  • I have been more goal-oriented than relationship-oriented.

Later in the afternoon, after completing the Enneagram test, I opened Henri Nouwen’s Desert Wisdom book and read the following:

Some old men came to see Abba Poemen, and said to him: Tell us, when we see brothers dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake? The old man said to them: Actually, if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest.

I couldn’t help but recall that Enneagram question when reading this story. Although being goal-oriented or relationship-oriented doesn’t call for a value judgment — one is not better than the other, by any means — in this particular story, being one or the other has implications.

If someone is dozing in church, what would be my response?

  • Would I worry about that person disrupting the service? (goal-oriented)
  • Would I judge them for not paying attention to God or the pastor? (goal-oriented)
  • Would I get worried about their spiritual life? (goal-oriented)
  • Would I care about their need for rest and simply want them to have what they need? (relationship-oriented)

I have to admit, I’ve been in the shoes of those old men in the story before. I’ve sat beside others dozing in church, or people who were simply a distraction from the normal mode of behavior in the service. In those moments, I became acquainted with panic. I wondered, Should I wake them? Should I try to get them to be quiet? Will others behind me get mad?

But upon reading Abba Poemen’s response in the story above, a calm and relief descend. I can feel my shoulders loosen. I feel my brow relax. I get back in touch with my true center and values.

I want to be Abba Poemen.

The truth is, I’m not always Abba Poemen upon first blush.

When I’m in touch with my true center, I would care about the person more than they impression they make. But when I’m going about my day without stopping for breath or stillness, I get caught up in myself and more easily become aggressive or judge-y.

Then I need to be reminded of what matters most: my neighbor and their well-being.

What about you? Do you tend toward one response over the other? Do you wish your response were different than it is?