Just imagine that you are standing at a clearance rack at Macy’s (prepandemic). A woman near you picks up the twin of the jacket you are holding and the two of you begin talking. By the time you both reach the cashier you have learned details about her life. Over an impromptu lunch you learn her name, that you both work for the same large school district, and that you have one mutual acquaintance. Lunch lasts an hour. It sounds almost like a meet-cute on a Hallmark movie except there is no romance involved. It happened to me.
When my girls were teenagers and we went on a shopping spree, they would scuff their feet in impatience as I conversed with someone. Once we went on our way, they would ask who she was.
“I don’t know. I just met her.”
This happened enough that they finally figured out I can chat with anyone. They stopped being embarrassed by it at some point. I think.
Once I stood in the store talking to the mother of my daughter’s friend, a woman I knew slightly. We were not BFF’s by any means. In the middle of the store I learned that she had been sexually abused as a child and other things that really shouldn’t be confessed in the middle of Macy’s. Maybe it’s something about that store!
It happened with young children, also. Often little kids would walk up to me in a store and start talking, much to the embarrassment of their parents.
My husband and I used to joke that I wore two signs, visible only to a select few. The one for kids said, “You can talk to me. I’m a kindergarten teacher.” The one for adults just said, “Talk to me. I will listen.”
Just yesterday I struck up a five-minute conversation over the yarrow growing around my mailbox. I now know that lady’s name, her address, and what deer resistant plants she is trying in her garden. I was invited to stop and say hi when I’m walking.
I have a few friends with whom I can talk about anything at any time. But sit me down over lunch with most of the people I have known for a long time and once we get past the basic pleasantries, I’m like a fish out of water. Don’t even make me go to a party.
Maybe listening to strangers or semi-strangers is my superpower! People sometimes just open up to me.
Now, I’m going to add another layer to this. In the examples above, I had something in common with some of the women, whether that be a jacket or the search for deer resistant plants. Nothing controversial there.
What happens with conversations that have a little more substance? Most of the time, I can totally relate to and understand the emotions behind what people tell me.
Even if I don’t agree with what they tell me, I see where they’re coming from.
I don’t usually judge them, depending on the topic. I will NEVER engage with them in an argument. I don’t argue a point, don’t think it works, and can’t think on the spot. I figure they don’t want my opinion.
Then, along comes the person with the opposite viewpoint. Just reread the bold sentence above. Same scenario.
The internal need that drives me, I have discovered through listening to panels of people talk about the enneagram, is inner stability and peace of mind. If you read my previous post, that relates to my strength of harmony. According to the enneagram, I’m a Type Nine.
According to this description at the Enneagram Institute, Type Nines can be “too willing to go along with others to keep the peace.”
According to Type Nine people who spoke on the podcast panels these are some of the things they feel – things that struck a nerve with me as I realized I feel these things. All. The. Time:
- My thoughts are not as important as the thoughts of others
- As a peacekeeper, I avoid expressing myself to keep the peace at all costs. I need to work toward becoming a peacemaker and take an active role in resolving conflict.
- Many times, I don’t know how I feel in the moment because I might not be sure where someone else’s thinking ends and mine begins.
- Decision making is difficult for me.
- When I listen, I reflect back the thoughts of others and they think I’m on their side. I might actually not be on any side.
- I’m usually not judgemental unless you hit certain key topics about which I have taken time to form a definite strong opinion.
- I don’t see things in black and white. I see the gray in most things.
- Sometimes people just open up to me.
Wow. It was surprising for me to hear so many enneagram panelists talk about their own feelings and actions which were so similar to mine.
The weirdest for me to hear voiced by someone else was the third statement. That is something I often experience. I think this must be strange to others.
All of the panelists shared strategies they were using to grow. Part of the enneagram process is learning to grow from being unhealthy in your type to being healthy. The podcasts have shared strategies and tools for growth. Within just a few weeks of discovering the enneagram, I have gotten some interesting and helpful insight into myself.
I realized that I actually have developed somewhat of a strategy. In the process of listening to stories to include in my book, I really grew to appreciate the power of story.
Here is what I now realize that I have started doing in recent years when I am in a hot topic conversation, when I can’t find the words to convince someone, when I am judging someone because their thoughts about a certain key topic are too black and white, or when I am fuming at what they are saying and can’t make myself engage in conflict but also know that harsh words wouldn’t help.
I tell a story.
I’ll leave it there for now. 🙂