It came up again this weekend: the ‘where are you from?’ conversation. The conversation starter that has third culture kids squirming and sweating, eager to leave the room and the conversation.
A while back Cecily Thew over at Cecily.Mostly talked about laughing at a statement in the book To Sell is Human by Daniel H. Pink. He writes this:
“I often ask people ‘What do you do?’ But I’ve found that a few folks squirm at this because they don’t like their jobs or they believe that others might pass judgement. This question [where are you from] is friendlier and more attuned… it opens things up rather than shuts them down… it always triggers an interesting conversation.”
To which Cecily responded in writing “Hahahahaha.”
As well she should, for if you want a conversation stopper and confuser for third culture kids, just ask them “where are you from?” No matter how sweetly and kindly you ask the question, it throws the TCK or CCK (cross cultural kid) into a confused jumble of words.
Someone astutely commented that it should be “What is your story?” and the more I think about that, the more I like it. The question “What is your story?” is not just for those who are displaced and exiled, but for everybody. It opens up the window to real conversation, to important information, to fostering understanding.
When we care enough to ask someone what their story is, we are having an ‘I-Thou” conversation. In his classic book I and Thou, the author Martin Buber speaks of the “I-thou” as a dialogue rather than a monologue; a dialogue of equality and empathy, where there is genuine interest for the other and their story.
While not everyone has a job and not everyone has a home, everyone has a story. Their story is uniquely theirs and cannot be taken from them. Stories define us, they tell the listener how our experiences made us who we are today. Telling a story invites questions, and questions invite more of the story.
So today – take a chance, and voice the question “What is your story?” to someone who you don’t know. Then sit back and watch what happens. You may be astounded by the response.