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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Speaking the Same Language


Today my coworkers and I braved one of the first cold autumn days to go out for a much-needed departmental lunch. With one person who works almost exclusively from home and two more who are relatively new, I decided that we needed to come together as a group, so today, on the one day a month that our at-home coworker is in we rallied the troops (my very busy boss, included) and walked several blocks to a Mediterranean restaurant that I knew would be palatable for everyone (we have a running joke about my having inflicted a brand new coworker with diarrhea after taking her out for Indian). With “no diarrhea” being the main motivation for selecting the restaurant I did, I didn't think much that we were taking my Greek boss to a Mediterranean restaurant until we walked in the door and gave them the name of our party – his name. The hostess immediately started conversing with my boss in Greek, as she walked us to our table. This got me thinking. We all seem to have something – some sort of niche trait or experience – that ties us to a select few in the general population, and for my boss today it was his being Greek.

I can’t help but think it’s kind of like pig Latin. As a kid you’re excited to learn this new secret language, and for a while at least, you’re excited to talk to your friends who also know pig Latin in your new found language, as you use it in front of your parents and other adults to disguise what you’re saying. In the case of my boss and the hostess, I don’t think their use of Greek was to disguise themselves from us. Instead, it’s a way of bonding with someone you don’t know very well but with whom you’ve happily discovered you have some sort of shared experience, and that instantly makes the person you’re talking to less of a stranger. This type of shared experience can be anything – from realizing you grew up in the same small community, to realizing you played the same sport or instrument, to realizing, like my boss, that you speak the same language. And that’s really what it’s all about – regardless of the particular similarity you bond over, by bonding over it you realize you speak the same language.

As humans, I think we’re constantly looking to solidify our place within society, and as we do this we wind up seeking out and then attaching ourselves to others who have similar interests or come from similar backgrounds. Like attracts like. We feel most comfortable around others who we feel know us – understand us. Despite this need to find and associate with like minds, how often do you think you truly approach people you do not know and try to find a common bond? More often than not, I feel like we put up barriers and search for something to dislike about a person – something that will drive us apart – but what good does that do?

As I go about the rest of my week, I think I’ll make the choice to approach everyone I meet with the desire to find something that brings us together instead of counting our differences. I think the more we can relate to each other – the global “we” – the better off we we’ll be. 

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