At some point in recent memory, I’d read that it is a fairly American (U.S.) tendency to ask someone 1) their name and 2) what they do. Are we truly so interested in the work of someone we just met? If their job is in a field we do not understand or don’t have an interest in, we may even tune out their answer or choose not to ask clarifying questions to better understand this new person.
In the piece that I’d read, the suggestion was instead of asking someone, “What do you do?” ask them, “What do you enjoy?” Part of the problem is that we ask about employment so we can judge other people, even subconsciously. How do you feel about a stay-at-home dad? An adult fast food employee? A person unemployed who isn’t even looking for work? A part-time lifeguard in their thirties? Someone who makes money on the side selling Avon or Pampered Chef, or drives an Uber or Lyft? Let’s face it: we all have feelings about jobs and make judgments about people based on what they do. We’re basically checking, “Do you meaningfully contribute to the economy?”
For the first time last night, I asked a new person who joined my meditation class 1) his name and 2) what he enjoys. He was utterly flabbergasted. He said he’d just moved from Oregon to Indiana a month ago, but he didn’t know what he enjoys. He said, “I had the What do you do? answer loaded and ready to go.” I explained why I did not ask what he does, and eventually, he came to answer gardening, short horror fiction, and breweries.
Pretty soon, we were comparing horror movies we’d seen, which were our favorites, etc. and the conversation kept unfolding in a natural way! If I had asked, “What do you do?” and he said (which I learned later) that he’s a stay-at-home dad of four children ages two to nine, I wouldn’t have had anything else to say. I have no children. I could have responded, “Cool, my brother has four kids, too.” But then where would we go from there?
In the future, when you meet someone new, consider asking them what they enjoy instead of what they do.