EDMOND—Over the past few months, Herbert W. Armstrong College students have been admonished by several ministers to work on improving their personalities: physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and especially socially. After the repeated admonition, I decided to have an objective analysis of myself. What I discovered was nothing short of shocking to me.
I began to notice that for some time now, I had been selfishly quiet at the lunch table. I hadn’t realized how much I’d subtly lost interest in many people with whom I often interacted. Conversations had become dull, uninteresting and nothing short of monotonous. Everyone seemed to use the same small talk. Conversations were like a CD on repeat. I hated them. They were an inconvenience, I merely endured over the twenty minutes I required to eat my food before fleeing the building and returning to my office desk: my comfort zone. Thing is, I’ve always been considered a people’s person and I myself would say I thrive off human contact. Fact of the matter is, I’d allowed myself to slip into an inward mindset which made talking to ‘randoms’ an unwanted burden. I was happy enough to talk to people on my terms, but when it came to starting deeper conversations, I simply put it into the “couldn’t be bothered” box.
The more I think about my experience, the more I suspect I am not alone. Many of us are ‘people-people’ but we can all fall into a lazy rut, where we are too consumed with our own lives to worry about what is happening in the daily lives of the person beside us. When I began recognizing my mistake, I made a decision to go into every conversation at meals with the goal to learn something new about whoever sat across from me. This forced me to ask questions. They didn’t have to be too probing to begin with, I asked about the person’s job, their family, what they liked to do in their spare time, where they’d like to work in the future, where they came from and things they missed from home. I realized in many of my relationships, I’d barely scratched the surface of what these people had to offer.
In rekindling my connection with others, an almost magical thing began to take place – everyone suddenly grew a personality and became interesting. Of course, they hadn’t changed at all, I had just decided to become genuinely interested in them – invested even. I learned about the wild younger days of faculty members, the miracles that my peers experienced coming to college, the romance stories of how someone’s parents met, the tear-invoking tales of how members were called, and countless more stories that people I thought I knew shared with me. It went a long way in showing me, that if I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought about the people I talked to on a daily basis, how much do I really know about people in the congregation that I only see once a week? My experiment made me hungry to learn more about members at services too. I realized that it doesn’t matter how young or how old, or anyone in between, everyone really does have a story to tell, if only each of us are just willing to work at mining out those gold nuggets.
This exercise didn’t just serve to help me have a more enjoyable midday meal, it trinkled down into all areas of my life. I began thinking about the needs of those around me, being more attuned to what they may be going through, their trials and seeking to help. I began making an effort to show I cared and tried to follow-up conversations by either checking in on them, or writing a note. Not only did it help me socially, I found that it was helping me spiritually too. I had more to pray about. These conversations helped me to get my mind off myself and focus on serving others.
It doesn’t matter whether you are at Armstrong College, Imperial Academy, Sabbath Services or the worldly lunchroom at your work place, being genuinely interested in the person beside you will not only improve their day, but it will build character, empathy and patience in you. Don’t pass up a unique opportunity to broaden your knowledge and social skills. My lunch-time experiment taught me it is easy to take the person at the lunch table, school, work or the congregation for granted, you may see them every day and you might think you know everything about them, but perhaps a few probing questions about their job, family or hobbies may reveal that you dine daily with some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet.