There’s a friendly competition at my church between the men and the women to see which group has the largest attendance at their breakfast events. Being one of the least competitive people on the face of the earth, this doesn’t mean much to me. I go for a number of other reasons. While I’m generally glad that I’ve gone, I usually dread going.
There are two dread inspiring realities to these events. The first is waking up with an alarm on a Saturday morning. I need lots of sleep; it’s a fact of my life. Going to bed early doesn’t cut it. I need at least one day to wake up when my body has had enough sleep. That often means 10-12 hours of sleep. (See? Going to bed early doesn’t give that to me unless I go to bed as soon as I get home from the office.)
Small talk is my other hurdle to these events. I’m not good at it. It’s taxing. As I was getting dressed to head to Marie Callender’s Saturday morning, a proverbial light bulb went off in my groggy head. The thought? I’ve become more like a TCK than I realized; I want to jump into the deep end of conversation’s pool.
Let’s see if I can explain.
Think of conversation like a pool. It has a deep end, a shallow end, and that middle part that’s only deep if you’re short. Now, think about how you approach a conversation. Chances are if you’ve lived a fairly conventional life with very few, if any, moves you believe you have all the time in the world to work your way down to the deep end. You can dip your toes in. You can sit in the shallow end while working on your tan—or your vitamin D quota. Relationally, you have plenty of time to get to know the other people at the pool. You can ask questions that don’t reveal much about who they are, but those questions can start to build a framework for a relationship. Once you hang out for a while, you decide if you want to go deeper or if hanging out is good enough.
Now think about approaching the pool if you don’t know how much time you have. If you’re a third culture person, that’s your reality. Moving regularly is normal; time is always an issue. You don’t feel like you have the luxury of getting to know people slowly. You see someone you want to get to know, grab their hand, and jump into the deep end of the conversational pool. You ask hard questions and expect to answer the same. As the exchange goes on you decide if this is someone you want to hang with, if this is someone you can move to the other end of the pool to spend the little time you have.
Don’t get me wrong. I do NOT want you to think that I believe only those who have lived cross-culturally can have deep conversations. That’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m saying time is a major factor in how different people approach communicating.
I don’t know if I was ever good at small talk; I doubt I was. Living cross-culturally and working with TCKs has made me even worse at it. I long for deep who are you really conversations, but I have to realize that this isn’t my pool. As far as I know, I won’t be going anywhere for any length of time in the near future. I need to learn to wade more often. Marie Callender’s on a Saturday morning might just be the place to do it. I need to keep that in mind next time the competition rolls around.
photo courtesy of Dori Szepesi