N is for Narrative Tradition

NOf all the Enneagram teachings I’ve experienced, the Narrative Tradition (founded by Helen Palmer and David Daniels in 1988) is unique and profound. They use panels of real people to help students understand what it is like to live as a certain personality type rather than talking about the different types as though they weren’t sitting right there in the room amongst the group. Their teaching style makes learning dynamic, enlightening, engaging and experiential.  It’s also validating for every person of every type to be asked directly what it is like to be them and enlightening to hear directly from everyone about their perspectives and experiences.

It’s the difference between looking at a drawing of the inside of any frog’s belly and cutting right into an individual frog and opening it up.

Here’s what it’s like:

You are one of 20-50 students in an Enneagram class. They’ve just given an overview of one of the types which happens to be your type. They then invite any of the students of that type to come sit in one of the chairs in front of the group. You join three or four other people and smile at each other in camaraderie. It feels good to you to be sitting with your people.

The teacher becomes a facilitator. She explains to the group that she’ll ask a few questions for you each to answer about what it’s like to be you as this type. She may ask things like, “What do you like best about your type?” “How does your type structure play out in your relationships?” “Tell us about a time you felt stuck in your type structure and what happened?”

She might open it up for the audience, your fellow students, to ask questions that they are curious about. They might ask, “How does it feel to you when someone does or says ________?” “What do you do in ________ situation?” “My partner is the same type as you and she does ____________. Do you relate to that?”

When you sit back down, you realize you feel validated, understood and seen for who you really are. You might have realized something new about yourself by answering a question or by hearing other people who share your type, who are either different than you or really similar. Or both.

Next you watch a panel of some other type. They smile knowingly at each other and you see the bond between people of the same type and realize those aren’t your people.



But you are intrigued by the way they view the world and learn much more from them than you did from the overview. Before the panel told their stories, you thought of this personality in stereotypes. You tried to think of people in your life who fit those and thought, maybe an old friend from college, but you weren’t sure. Sometime during the panel, you realize you are listening to your own sister in a way you never really understood before, even after all these years.  You are grateful for the panel’s vulnerability and willingness to share honestly so you could really understand.

After all types have talked, you feel closer to your fellow students and have a great deal more compassion for the other types having learned from them rather than just about them.

For more information on the Narrative Tradition, you can visit this website or this one. The classes I’ll be teaching this summer/fall will be in the style of the Narrative Tradition. Stay tuned for details.

4 thoughts on “N is for Narrative Tradition

  1. I’m so glad I got to here to visit you today – this is a fascinating post. The learning style, although more formalized, feels a lot like unschooling to me. As a parent, I spend quite a bit of time facilitating for my children.

    I thin k I will be exploring this philosophy more deeply, in the future. I find myself intrigued!


    • Thanks for your comment. I love the process of facilitating other people’s learning. It means I don’t have to have the answers and they get so much more out of their own realizations. I think that’s what you mean when you talk facilitating for your kids, right?


      • Nancy,

        Yes, that’s it. The biggest reason among many that I wanted to homeschool was that I have always loved seeing children learn and grow, and I didn’t want to let a teacher have all the fun with my own kids!

        Now, at 9 and 12, my facilitation is often in the form of driving them, suggesting activities or things they might enjoy, chatting, and sending them links…

        Oh, and learning from them, and having my own projects, which I talk with them about, if they’re interested.

        It was more labor-intensive when they were smaller, and needed me for reading, internet navigation, and many other things they now do for themselves.

        I still seem to be their preferred spell-checker, though!


  2. Pingback: X is for Xeno- | Nine Kinds of Kids

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