About a year ago some friends held a Mexican Fiesta to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. The night ended with forty adults gathered around a large paper mache figure. I can’t really remember what the figure was, for it wasn’t its form that mattered. What mattered was what was on the inside.
Later that same year I was in Washington DC. I walked through monuments formed to tell the story of significant moments in US History. In this case it was the form of each statue that mattered, for the form was a part of a story. More specifically it was the part of the story we wanted or were encouraged to remember.
Most of the time we treat people as though they are statues. We see their form, label them and then ask questions from there. When I was standing in front of Abe Lincoln I didn’t hear anyone ask about his hobbies, children, birth order, beliefs, struggles as a man or husband or dad. NO, people looked at him, saw a president, a liberator, an honest man, a man of struggle. They saw Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States of America.
Now, back to the party. Here were forty adults gathered around a very ugly paper mache animal of sorts and there was a great curiosity sweeping over this normally tame group of people. People wanted to know what was inside. And they worked hard to get through the outside to the good stuff in the middle. If they had treated the pinata as though it were a decoration or a statue, so much would have been missed!
It takes work to get to the middle. It takes a desire to know what is on the inside. It takes an attitude that speaks to the value of what lives underneath, that what is inside has just as much, if not more value than the appearance.
Getting to know a person past their label is much like getting to the good stuff of a pinata. It takes effort, discomfort, many attempts and conviction that there is more to one’s story than the label they wear.
In many ways we must unlearn our “get to know you” strategies. Instead of asking questions such as, what do you do? where do you work? where did you go to college? what did you study? how long have you been a mom? how long have you two been dating? and so on. Begin with questions that get to the good stuff. (the other stuff is easy to learn) Ask questions that get to know a human, not a thing or occupation.
Ask questions like: Where do you live? What is your favorite thing about your neighborhood? What do you love about life right now? What do you enjoy about your job? What are you passionate about?
Asking questions that go beyond the label might be uncomfortable, but think of the things you could find out! For instance you might go to a party and ask a normal set of questions and you meet Carl a young lawyer, who lives in a downtown penthouse apartment. Or if you asked a question such as, How do you know the host of the party? You might come to find out that Carl and the host went on a backpacking trip together 4 years ago and now they are boy scout troupe leaders downtown. And the conversation continues. You walk away knowing so much of their story and you may later have to find out, now what did Carl do again? When you remember a story over a label you know you’re really getting to know someone!
What are some questions you might ask to get to know a person beyond their label?