Years ago, shortly after I graduated from college, I was hired into a relatively large corporation. Naive and inexperienced, I was nervous when I attended my first company Christmas party, so my …
Years ago, shortly after I graduated from college, I was hired into a relatively large corporation. Naive and inexperienced, I was nervous when I attended my first company Christmas party, so my co-workers advised me to mingle and act confidently.
I wandered around the room with a drink in my hand, as everyone had one (although mine was just orange and cranberry juice). I smiled, shook hands, and talked with many.
Like any typical social gathering, the topics were generally superficial: what department we are working in, how long we have been working for the company, hobbies, etc.
Then I met a very tall gentleman whom I started to joke with about the differences in our heights. We ended up having a very long and interesting conversation. Afterward, someone asked me what we were talking about, and how I was able to hold a conversation with him for so long. I must have looked perplexed as to why he cared, so he informed me that the person I was talking to was the vice president of manufacturing, a very important person in the company indeed.
I descended into a quiet panic mode. Turning in my head of our conversation, I searched for any unintelligent comments I may have uttered. And after ruminating for days of whether I made a good impression on him, I finally let it go as there was not much I could do.
But I remembered we both enjoyed our conversation which was mainly about how I came to America and my culture. He was curious, thus asked many questions which I was glad to answer. We discussed the challenges as well as benefits of living in America due to the many different subcultures.
A few points worth noting: First, although young and inexperienced, a person may always have something to offer, a knowledge of a topic and a unique perspective. Secondly, like Mama's teaching notes, you never know who you will be talking to, so always be on your best behavior. In my case, I had the attention of a vice president!
More importantly, a good conversation is when there is a positive outcome for all parties; when we all feel satisfied that we are heard or when we have learned something new.
Without getting into too much politics, we can agree that there is a great deal of divisiveness in our country. Leaders and talking heads are asserting the need of having a serious conversation, to which I say, not just a serious one, but a constructive one; one which will lead to a true understanding and ultimately, some workable resolutions.
Recalling the encounter I had with the VP, the essence of that great conversation was open-mindedness. We were both there to contribute, to receive as well as to offer information.
Interestingly though, what helped me was my ignorance. I was completely unaware of who he was and thus did not come to the conversation with any preconceived notions. He was just a person at the party whom I met and "killed" some time with. I had no agenda and no impression to make, just curiosity and an open mind. We found a subject we were both interested in and walked away learning and understanding more than when we started.
Had I known who he was, I'm certain that my approach would’ve be entirely different. Instinctively, I would have tried to be impressive, but most likely rendering the opposite effect, stiff and boring. The conversation would have been less candid, and more sterile and inauthentic.
To be sure, I do not subscribe to the ignorant-is-bliss mindset, and honestly, we cannot escape the bias we all carry anyway; it is a part of who we are. But we need to recognize and censor it so as to listen, learn, understand and just maybe, to sympathize — a key attribute in personally connecting with others.
If we possess this scope of attentiveness which engages both our intellectual and emotional sensibility, we will have a more honest, meaningful, and constructive conversation to view the other side as someone we can work with instead of someone we fight against.
It is up to us — on both sides: To be aware and control our negative and oppositional tendencies; to set our biases aside to move our conversation forward, to move our country forward.
(About the writer: Van Marosek is a Vietnamese immigrant who came to America in 1975 following the fall of her Saigon, South Vietnam, homeland to the communist regime. She is now an American citizen and resides with her family in Lawrenceville, Ga. She is a syndicated columnist and writes a blog. She is available for public speaking engagements in Cleveland and Bradley County. Email her at Jimvanny@gmail.com.)
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