I don’t have a penis, but if I did and if it was important to me to know it’s dimensions compared to other area penises, I would use this question as a diagnostic tool. Nothing says ‘My identity is based on how I perform, and particularly in comparison to you’ quite as much as this question. Let’s listen in:
“What do you do?”
“I am an artisan,”
“Then allow me to fetch your slippers as I am a humble peasant with, and this may seem odd, access to your closet.”
Nothing good there. Comparison. No room for connection.
Also, lack of interest. Asking ‘What do you do?’ easily dooms a conversation to mindless lines of inquiry like ‘And what IS the primary line of insurance you write’ or ‘How do you choose which flooring vendors to use?’ What human on Earth wants to ask OR answer those questions? Are you even reading still? Exactly.
Answering the question is no easier. Is the person asking how I make money, what is important to me, or who I am? I over-think things. It’s what I do. I don’t make money, and I could talk for days on the other two. Shall we get a refill?
What I dislike is that ‘What do you do?’ leaves too much to position on REALLY STUPID things. Chicks / Guys dig me more. My watch requires insurance. My driver kicks your bus pass’s ass!
I don’t believe in the power-over dynamic as a way to engage with other people. To my way of thinking, if we have been brought together, it is because we have something to share with each other. It probably doesn’t have to do with how we pay rent or who can support the bigger debt load. Our challenge is to find out what we have for each other in the places that really matter: connection, interest, encouragement.
This afternoon I was at a mingle mingle for a dear friend of mine who is retiring. She is funny, smart, loyal, and team-oriented. She sells insurance to fund her habit of mentoring disadvantaged girls and helping young business women get established (and Habitat for Humanity and Rotary…) because she and her husband are passionate about building other people. Asking this woman ‘What do you do?’ would not uncover that.
I was standing at a tall table, awkwardly, with a group of women I’d never met. I was contemporaneously chairing a committee meeting in my head at which we were discussing the merits of learning how to do casual conversations as a means of not scaring people away. I had made the point that chit chat bores the ever-living crap out of me — thankfully, not out loud — when a woman I had briefly talked to in line approached the table. She provided a painless distraction for everyone looking for a casual chance to flee.
She had mentioned she was related to my friend. I was thinking, ‘I am sure I will like you because you are close with someone I respect a great deal, so let’s find something in common.’ We tried valiantly with the chit chat, but it was simply painful, so I broke down and asked, ‘How do you most like to create?’
She lit up!
‘My husband and I were just talking about that,’ she said. And she excitedly explained an idea she has been dreaming about. She glowed. Speaking, writing, healing. Her heart is ready and her Soul is calling, and just like that, in the middle of an awkward mingle mingle, by asking a real question to a person who also doesn’t like chit chat, I found another a new friend!
I have conversations with the people I don’t scare away 😀
^^ That’s good, right?