I went to small social mingling. It was a low key, artsy sort of thing. Casual chilling in a large backyard on a beautiful Spring afternoon. The invitation was rather last minute and off the cuff as well. It was one of those, ‘Oh by the way’ mentions that expanded to include me.
Personal bucket lists being personal, I decided to attend and to put a check mark next to this one.
Besides, being surrounded by strangers doesn’t bother me. I’m stranger than most, but still safe to play with, so I just tell myself that I’m among friends I haven’t met yet.
After greeting the hosts and receiving the brief, polite introductions to the few people nearby, I sauntered off to graze and gaze.
Friendly canines wag their tails when they meet a stranger. Friendly people make eye contact, smile ever so slightly and nod.
It wasn’t long before curiosity or sympathy overcame a couple nearby and they walked towards me with all the signs of being nice. Which they were, of course…curious, sympathetic and nice.
The weather, the garden, the food and the generosity of the hosts to pull this all together were all discussed in turn and without incident.
It is at this juncture that someone usually makes the decision to either end the exchange or to venture further. There are two stock questions when the decision is to talk a little further: 1) So, what brings you here? or 2) So, what do you do?
I love that they both begin with ‘So’. It’s such a clear indication of a transition past the initial phase of civility. It’s like we’re getting down to business.
I do not love, however, either of those two questions, not so much for the questions themselves but for what my honest answers have always been. Answer 1: “I don’t know really. For all I know, it could be to meet you.” Answer 2: “I try to experience life in all its fullness.”
I never feel awkward in the silence that follows but I can’t say the same for the people who asked the question.
I set them up. I’m still wagging my tell (eye contact, slight smile) but I’m waiting.
My plain honesty set them up with an unexpected opportunity to be spontaneous and genuine. They were given an invitation to get real and a choice. This is not a right or wrong, good or bad choice. This is a ‘what would you like to do?’…step in or step away?
I don’t keep the hard data on these instances but my overall recollection is that this isn’t a coin toss moment. It’s not a 50/50 split in how it goes. It’s about a 75/25 split with the 75% being the people who step in and the 25% being those who step away.
I cannot tell you how heartening that is.
Most people really do want to connect, want to move beyond the sanitized and boring, and into something genuine…this moment, right here.
It’s not a challenge that they’re responding to because this isn’t a fight and there is no winning. It’s an invitation they’re accepting into an exchange that we’re all hungry for…an opportunity to be and to share ourselves.
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