Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Since we're not sniffing each other...

Have you noticed that when people meet others for the first time they tend to ask a very small set of initial questions? Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Do you know my buddy Bob? Where did you go to school?

I have always felt that these were such small questions. They don't capture the essence of the person. The question about employment is particularly egregious. Most people would, if they won the lottery, run from their job as if from a burning building. Most people are employed because they have to be, not because they feel their job defines them and represents their highest ambitions. And yet, even though so many people consider their own job to be highly unrepresentative of their own essence, they usually make that the very first question when they are trying to size up a new acquaintance.

The other questions are also misguided. But we ask them for very understandable reasons. They are atavistic impulses. We have very ingrained approach and avoidance mechanisms by which we seek to maintain the proper distance (spatial and social) from other people. We want to feel safe around others. And we default to base tribal instincts in our effort to do so.

You work in my industry? You come from Sheboygan? You went to Jefferson High? You do know Bob?! Ah, well you're "one of us". You're safe. People will often play this game until they can find some common ground. And of course I'm not even mentioning the search they do without opening their mouth like looking at skin color, attire, shape of the eyes, etc.

But is this really common ground? I don't think so. I think we are more evolved than this. So since we're not literally sniffing each other, can we not move away from these base criteria when sizing up other people?

I'd like to suggest a few new questions to ask people we meet. I think these are better ways of determining whether they are "one of us" and whether we'd like to hang out with them. [Note: I make an exception for specific interactions like job interviews and if you live in a jungle where you really do need to rely on your atavistic instincts to survive.]

So here are my questions:
1) What is your life's ambition?
2) What makes your heart sing?
3) Who do you most respect?
4) What is your most important trait?
5) How are you different?

I think you get the idea. We are not just pieces of meat. We have souls. We are capable of sublime thinking and behavior.

So let's move beyond caveman thinking and start elevating ourselves and the people we meet by seeking to define and understand each other in terms of our capability for beauty, wisdom and excellence.

If you have any other ideas for good questions to ask, I'd love to hear them.

1 comment:

Jer979 said...

you are right, but my hunch is that few would know how to respond to your questions.

doesn't mean you shouldn't ask. I tend to start w/ "what's your story?" and let folks take it from there.

good luck in your next conversation starter.