Thanks to inspiration from my good friend, Joe, and my favorite authors, Donald Miller and Bob Goff, I've learned something in my short time in western Washington; I value people's stories. To really know someone, you have to know where they've come from, where they're going, and what their motivation is in between. These questions about what I "do" (for work) don't really do it for me.
A good friend and pastor at Soma once described the difference between the east and west coast in this way; people on the east coast aren't polite but they're friendly while people on the west coast are polite but they're not friendly.
Read that again for clarification. What Abe meant was that people on the west coast (specifically the northwest) want to make people feel comfortable and respected. People you meet rarely make polarizing statements that could be disrespectful or offensive to our opinions. Baristas and cashiers greet you and ask how your day is going. The first time this happened I was very confused but ultimately enjoyed the politeness. The barista takes me order, runs my credit card, and asks how my day is. I was caught off guard. Why do you want to know how my day is? Are you taking some kind of survey? Did my boss put you up to this?
People on the east coast don't do that. When you order a sandwich at Primanti's in Pittsbugh, for example, you tell them what sandwich and that's it. No questions. Hopefully no adjustments (No cole slaw? No tomatoes? Go make your own.) Rude, maybe, but efficient. They don't care how your day is; they care what sandwich to make for you.
This happened quite a bit of times and I realized the other half of Abe's statement. Yes, PNWers are polite and make me feel like I'm cared for in those small talk situations, but they're not as friendly as east coast folks. The same service people would ask small talk questions over and over without making any allusions that they remembered who I was. Friends that I was meeting would keep it to surface-level small talk like "How's work?" or "How are you enjoying Washington?". Work is work. I go, I do things, I go home. Every two weeks I get paid for those things I'm doing. Washington? The music is great and the weather sucks. Usually the former outweighs the latter, which has worked out pretty well.
You see, people on the east coast want to know those stories. We ask tough questions. We engage in controversial discussions. When we disagree, we disagree hard. When we agree, we give high-fives and buy people drinks. When we like people, we like them a lot and spend time with them. When we don't like people, we generally disengage with them and let sleeping dogs lie. It's cool because those people we don't like will find friends more like them. Unless they're jerks.
The thing is, Joe (native of Ohio) pointed out that people don't ask others about their stories out here. They seem disengaged. They don't want to know the details of our lives. They have surface-level friendships. I don't mean to say this happens with everyone, but it certainly happens with a lot of folks. I want to feel cared for by friends and acquaintances who may become friends.
A true friend knows what makes their friends tick. They can tell when they're in a good or bad mood. They identify with who they've been, who they are, and who they'd like to be. They ask tough questions. When my ex-girlfriend and I broke up, people were afraid to ask questions. The ones that did ask questions, though, were the ones who helped me to process my thoughts and feelings and, ultimately, move on fairly smoothly. Friends are there to talk about difficult things.
So what does this mean? Well, in the grand scheme, it means that I'll probably engage people in who they are more than what they do. Practically, this means that I'll be asking people more about their stories and determine what part I play in it.
"I used to think I needed to record stories, but now I know I need to engage them." - Bob Goff, Love Does