A Tool for Translation: A Review of The Path Between Us


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September 19, 2019
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Title: The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships
Author: Suzanne Stabile
Publisher: Intervarsity Press
Publishing Date: April 10, 2018
Pages: 240 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0830846429

As a young adult, I lived for five months in Indonesia. I remember the day I first arrived. After several long flights and a disorienting journey through many time zones and even more hours, I landed in an airport in Jakarta, on the other side of the world. I had learned only a few words of Indonesian ahead of time (language lessons were to be my first priority in the weeks after arrival), so I was deeply relieved to meet the woman who would help me navigate my first days in that foreign country. She had lived in Canada for several years, so she understood where I was coming from. She was my translator—of language certainly, but also of cultural differences. I can’t recall a time when I felt first so lost, then blessedly found.

Sometimes situations much closer to home also require translation. People who speak the same language, share the same culture, and maybe even live in the same home can see the world very differently from each other. Their misunderstandings can be frustrating, and even hurtful, for both parties.

Suzanne Stabile knows this. Early in her book, The Path Between Us, she writes, “All relationships—those that truly matter and even those that don’t—require translation. And if our interest in relational growth and transformation is sincere, then the Enneagram is one of the most helpful translation tools available.” In The Path Between Us, she shows how knowledge of the Enneagram can help us learn to better understand how others see.

Although Stabile briefly describes the Enneagram in the introduction to her book, readers would benefit from a prior working knowledge of it before reading the book. Generally, an adult tends to view life primarily through one of nine different lenses or types, referred to by numbers in the Enneagram (children often show strong tendencies too, but will usually try out several types before settling on one that seems to work best). Understanding your own Enneagram number can be incredibly helpful for learning and growing as a person. Understanding another person’s Enneagram number can help you relate to them in a positive way. For a brief introduction, read this article and then visit the Enneagram Institute. Then read The Road Back to You, a more general book about the Enneagram, written by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.

Stabile gives some helpful and important caveats in the introduction to her book that are worth repeating. Remember, the Enneagram is a tool for understanding and growth; it is not a weapon. Stabile writes, “First, please don’t use your Enneagram number as an excuse for your behavior. Second, don’t use what you’ve learned about the other numbers to make fun of, criticize, stereotype, or in any way disrespect them. Ever. Third, it would be great if you would spend your energy observing and working on yourself as opposed to observing and working on others.”

Stabile follows her introduction with nine chapters, each of which describes a number on the Enneagram. Stories and descriptions help to illustrate how individuals with that particular number tend to interact with other people. Near the end of each chapter, a sidebar column briefly notes how someone with that number tends to relate specifically to people from each of the other Enneagram numbers. Another helpful page gives tips geared toward relationships for each number (i.e. if that is your Enneagram number, what might you do well to keep in mind as you relate to others?). A final page hints at important concepts for relationships with each number (i.e. if that is not your Enneagram number, what insights can help you interact better with people who have that number?).

I enjoyed reading this book. As I read, I thought about people I know—children, friends, family, coworkers—and found helpful insights into some of their approaches that are very different from my own. The book also spurred me to dig deeper into the nuances of my own Enneagram number, since the book is most helpful when you understand your own relationship to the Enneagram (I am a one with a nine wing, if you’re curious).

I have read a lot about the Enneagram, yet a few thoughts in this book were new and surprising to me. For example, each Enneagram number is associated with a “stress number.” When facing a difficult time, an individual will tend to take on characteristics from that stress number. I had the impression from previous reading that this was a bad thing, and that a person would take on negative aspects of the stress number. However, Stabile notes that going to a stress number can be a positive thing, providing a way for an individual to cope with the stress.

Although The Path Between Us has helpful insights for relationships in general, I did not find it as helpful for specific relationships, like marriage. Very little information is shared about how any two specific Enneagram types tend to relate. At the most, a few sentences are included in the aforementioned sidebar column in each chapter. That said, I think the book helped me clarify my husband’s Enneagram number… which then raised an issue, in my mind. A person’s Enneagram number is a very personal thing and should be determined by them alone. It is neither kind nor fair to try to tell someone else what type you think they are. However, that can limit the usefulness of this kind of book. If you are in a relationship with someone who is self-aware enough to have learned about the Enneagram and figured out their number, well and good. What about when you need to get along with someone who might not accept that other ways of seeing the world than their own are equally valid?

After thinking about this, I’ve decided to act in much the same way as I do when I think about one of my children, recognizing certain behaviors but trying not to label them as a particular Enneagram type. In her book The Enneagram of Parenting, author Elizabeth Wagele points out that children try out different ways of behaving as they grow. She refers to children’s behaviors as “styles” rather than as “types,” and suggests you frame your thinking as follows: “My child is currently behaving in the style of a .”

Everyone sees the world primarily through the lens of one particular number on the Enneagram. Ideally, as we mature we learn to value strengths from the other eight numbers. Stabile’s book helps us translate the strengths and challenges of Enneagram types that are not our own, to clarify communication and deepen relationships.

Dig Deeper

If you are interested in the Enneagram and would like a resource that gives more information about how two specific Enneagram types are likely to interact, check out this link from the Enneagram Institute.

About the Author
  • Dawn Berkelaar lives in southern Ontario with her husband Edward and their four children. She is a scientist, editor, writer, teacher and home maker.

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