When was the last time you asked a great question? One of those questions that makes the recipient pause and think.
One instance, where I was the recipient of the question, comes to mind. I was staying with a quirky Frenchman in Bordeaux when he revealed some unpleasant news. I promptly replied, “I’m sorry to hear that.” He turned to me and, in a way only a Frenchman could, sarcastically berated me.
“Sorry?! Why are you sorry? You did nothing to force this upon me? If you did, I would very much like to hear about it!”
The question stunned me a bit. Why was I sorry? At this point, I was fairly far down the road in my journeys abroad yet something I said had enticed a hilarious reaction from my French friend. You would think I would have known better at that point. It reminded me of how often we are blind to our own rhythms and patterns. What we do and say every day becomes invisible because there is no comparison. There is nothing to contradict the way we go about our lives.
I’m very lucky that I’ve seen very different ways to live our lives. Which was a blessing and a curse when I finally returned to the states. When I came back, it pained me to see my friends and family slap me on the back, say welcome home, and carry on with their lives. So very few of the members of my inner circle asked me questions about my experience abroad.
It stung me at first. It stung me for a long time actually, but as I sat within my native culture I began to realize the truth. My fellow Americans were not equipped with the tools to ask me about my adventure or any real deep meaning in my life.
Calling Americans individualists has become a trend, but very few know the true meaning behind that phrase. We are not as selfish as we want to believe. My inner circle did not ignore me from lack of love but rather did not know how to ask. We are not a question culture. We do not seek information from each other because we are not taught to do so. We do not understand that there is a different cadence to personal connection from the one we use every day.
Think about the last few conversations you’ve had with friends. How did that conversation go? The standard American style of conversation goes something like this: friend one shares a story, friend two shares a similar story, and friend one shares another story to build upon the last. I call it ‘story stacking’. There are no questions about the previous story. Most of the time there isn’t even a reaction to the last story before the next one begins. It is usually the speaker sharing a similar experience in an attempt to connect to their counterpart. Which is why we use more personal pronouns in our conversations than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Expect the British, but that makes sense when you think about it.
There is nothing wrong with this (we’ve got in a bad habit of shaming everything that we do), but we must understand that there are different tools for different jobs. Our style is great for a night out and good times. We can playfully banter with the patrons of any Irish bar, but when it’s time to get deep and talk about our essence, we tend to fail.
Our culture is not built to connect with others. We were taught to say I, me, and my from an early age instead of you and your. We are not taught to ask questions and therefore lose our curiosity about the truths that others hold.
Weird that what holds us back is often hidden in plain sight. The good news is that this can easily be remedied. Bring consciousness to the words that you use. Shift your usage of pronouns from first person to second person. Relight your curiosity about the people around you.
Ask more questions and listen to their answers.