Wednesday 17 January 2007

What's in a job?

Dandelion put me on the spot by challenging my assertion that "I never ask about jobs as I do not evaluate people by what they do for a living."

I don't of course *never* find out what someone's job is or *never* express an interest in it - some very interesting conversations are with people who have decided to take on a challenging and unusual job, or who love their job. However, a great many people draw conclusions simply by what your job is and, more tellingly, what you earn from it and what prestige it gives you. It can get in the way of making your own mind up about what someone 'is' as a person. Finding out what his interests are tells you much more. I had a friend who was a carpenter working for a local builder, skilled at what he did, but it wasn't his greatest interest; he had a huge passion for and knowledge of Lowestoft porcelain and classical music. I love to hear about a person's enthusiasms, even if I don't share them. Once, years ago, at a party, a very shy man was completely tongue-tied until he found an opening to start talking about bees. Although, in his keenness, he talked for too long about bees, it was endearing as well as interesting to hear him. I don't know what his job was, but I suspect I'd have simply found out his approximate income and social standing by asking, and I have no interest in that at all - which was what I meant by 'I don't evaluate...'

Of course, if someone loves their job and is glad to tell you about it, that is part of getting to know them. You would not talk to the Sage for long without finding out about his work, nor to Al. My other two children, whilst being happy in their jobs, probably would not bother to chat about them in a social situation. Ro's job, for instance, is in IT. You ask what he does. "I work in the IT department of a local factory that makes ***." What is there to follow up? Does he enjoy it, has he been there long, is it a field he wishes to stay in - if you had a similar job you might ask a technical question or two, but you wouldn't know more about his personality from it, unless you have a 'mind's eye' view of IT technicians that could cloud, one way or another, your view of him. On the other hand, ask me about porcelain and I'll still be enthusing quite some time later. You would, indeed, be taught quite a bit about me, if only never to bring up the subject again.

Once, someone said to me - and he meant it in quite a complimentary way -"I should think you don't suffer fools gladly." "I love fools," I replied, hurt, "I'm a fool myself." When I meet someone, I try not to prejudge them. I am predisposed to like them and sometimes, of course, there is an instant rapport. But I don't feel a wish to judge or decide about them, I would want to accept them on their own terms and receive the message they wish to give. I draw some conclusions from that, of course, but I still keep my mind open.

I take on board Dandelion's comment (about herself) I'm sometimes too self-absorbed to really care enough for it to occur to me to ask as that certainly used to apply to me. I was far too shy and self-conscious for many years to wonder about the person I was speaking to, I was more concerned with worrying about the impression I was giving. I don't think that's the case now, if anything I'm slightly under-concerned about my own self-portrayal.

I wrote, a few weeks ago, about going to see someone on business, whom we'd known for years and who had always disregarded me, but that, on that occasion, he started to see me as a more interesting and likeable person. I did put some effort into charming him, but what I didn't mention at the time was that (after the initial spark of friendship had been lit, for we'd got on to more personal conversation by then) I referred to the place where I grew up, which was the poshest part of Oulton Broad. He asked if I'd known a couple of families and I did; they were close friends of my parents. He asked what my father did for a living - I was slightly startled by this and replied "Er, nothing ... he just 'lived'." An odd way of putting it, but he was, indeed, a man of independent means and this came across in my confused words. The businessman was impressed. And that, to me, was a little offputting - except that I know, for another friend had told me, that his own father had built up his business from very humble beginnings; they had adopted a different way of life and left their roots behind. Whilst this is not the way people go now, they would be proud, if anything, of both their achievements and their origins, it was not often the case 50 years ago. And so, whilst not liking the hint of snobbery, I understood its origins and did not 'mark him down' for it.

Darling Dandelion, I bet you wish you hadn't asked. Have I explained? I don't expect to be agreed with and I like to be challenged, thank you for your comment.


badgerdaddy said...

That's a fab post. Really enjoyed reading it.

Oooh, might be visiting Yagnub for the half marathon, if training goes well, so I shall be saying hello of course... And probably getting very, very drunk afterward.

Z said...

Cheers, peach. That'll be great, look forward to seeing you.

I'd be legless enough after a half marathon.

The Boy said...

I often do use that question as social grease. Not because I'm interested in the answer per say, but that in what and how they answer can speak volumes. Either it becomes a conversation in and of itself, as you say, or it becomes clear that you need to stear onto other roads.

I do, however, get quite annoyed at people who ask it, then decide if your interesting or not based on the status of the answer. Too many of those types about.

Monozygote said...

No, I'm glad I asked, and glad you weren't annoyed. Now I understand. I've got to say, I really agree with the boy too. What he said.

Z said...

Yup, the Boy is always worth listening to!

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your sentiments. Way back in the mists of blog time, I wrote a similar sort of thing.

When people ask me what I do, I always smile and say, "As little as possible..." and quickly ask then a question.

My beees have saved my life on more than one social occasion where there has seemingly been nothing to talk about. But I know what you mean about beekeepers not knowing when to stop!

Do you know The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer?

If you don't I think you'll like it.

Z said...

I do indeed like it, BW, thank you very much for showing it to me. I'd be a bit surprised if any of those questions were answered - or asked of me - at lunch today though!

Bless him, that man had no other conversation but his bees. No social skills at all. It was one occasion when he felt he was able to shine and fascinate, because I listened so absorbedly.

Pat said...

I like meeting people but realise over the last year or so we have turned down almost all party invites and it is now my idea of hell.
So people do change. i used to adore them

Z said...

Depends on the party, doesn't it, Pat. The sort where you stand around with a glass making small talk and circulating dutifully can pall, but a good chat with friends, maybe with a few new people being friendly is still a pleasure, especially if there's nice food and drink.