Remember Me, Alex?
Little bad can happen when we reach out
"Remember me, Alex? We went to summer camp together."
"Actually, I don't," he said.
"Never mind," I said. "Want to come for dinner?"
Beyond the embarrassment — was I a nobody at summer camp? — I learned an important lesson that day. I learned that sustaining relationships is worth the effort.
David Brooks reflected on this theme in The New York Times. Citing research from the University of Chicago, he said most of us underappreciate the value we get from conversing with others, including strangers. And, just as importantly, we underappreciate how much others appreciate being spoken to.
Citing the research, Brooks wrote: “It turns out many of us wear ridiculously negative antisocial filters.”
It’s as if we’re all fixated on our cell phones, literally and metaphorically. Don’t look up. Don’t speak. If you do, something good could happen.
For the last several years, I’ve worked with lawyers. They’re smart, diligent and determined. But they’re different.
Research validates my observation. Compared to the general population, lawyers are skeptical, like to be in control, tend not to be social, and they’re not particularly resilient. They’re generally content with a small social circle. Not surprisingly, many keep their heads down and their doors closed.
This all seems strange to me. I’m at a happy stage of life where I want for nothing. With my wife, I travel a lot. Nice condo, nice car, good health, and I generally know how to use the remote controls.
But what do I value most? What would I keep if God said: “You can have two possessions only?”
My answer is simple. Relationships. And experiences.
I most cherish those times when I saw or experienced something unusual or something beautiful. I most cherish the people I’ve met and the laughter, and sometimes the tears, that we’ve shared. The hugs, the high-fives, the conversations, the secrets, the ambitions, and the fears. As ABC’s Wide World of Sports said it simply many years ago, it’s “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
And many of my memorable moments wouldn’t have happened without effort, without a conscious decision to do or say something.
Smile at somebody. Start a conversation. Ask a few questions. Get in the car, or on a bus, or on a plane, and go somewhere. Look at somebody in the eye and say: “How you doin’?” Or simply say “thank you.”
The risk/reward ratio is dramatically favourable. Little bad can happen.
We recently attended a dinner where we were joined by a couple new to our city. It was a spectacular evening. Among other things, I learned that they have lived in some of the world’s most exotic places and that his father was thrice married, wrote fifteen books, including a The New York Times bestseller, was a pilot, a singer, an actor and a smuggler who was an “involuntary guest” in three countries. He was, according to his obituary, “An irreplaceable man with a passion for life and love.”
We would have missed all that had we stayed home or had we not asked a few simple questions.
As for Alex, he and his wife came to dinner that evening almost fifty years ago. It was lovely. They’re a wonderful couple. Engaged, smart and worldly.
We don’t see each other often. They live separate lives in a different country. But we value each other as friends. And we’re richer because we invited them to dinner.
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