I spent a ton of time in Minneapolis during my consulting days, getting to know the clients and the city pretty well. So, it only seemed natural to bring the family up for a few days to show them the town I’d come to enjoy.
How embarrassing! It turns out that I really didn’t know anything about the place. Yes, I knew how to get from the airport to Apogee and from the airport to Patterson Dental, from the airport to a dozen other clients, three hotels and two restaurants. Beyond that, zip. Unless I was planning to take the family to a business meeting, I was completely lost.
Eventually, we regrouped and found our way to the Mall of America, but that trip was a cautionary tale for me, and not about travel. More relevant was the lesson about my relationships with other people.
I’m friendly with a few hundred people and we have pleasant conversations every time I connect with one of them. After a while, I could almost get the sense that I know them, but that would be a big mistake. With most, I’m about a half a step beyond total stranger, working my way up to acquaintance. We’re comfortable in our conversations and we enjoy each other’s company, but we’d be making too big a leap to assume we really know each other intimately.
With some people, the conversations are always about the same topics or a limited range of items, which means that more interactions don’t lead to broader insight. With others, we’re talking about a shared interest or a specific project, but we aren’t delving into our backgrounds or what makes us tick. Sometimes, it seems I’ve had 100 conversations with someone, but we’ve really had the same conversation 100 times. And, to be realistic, I’m not sure that…
“How ya doin'?”
…counts as a conversation.
I am active as a mentor to minority business owners and we have some discussions about issues that arise from their identities. I know many people who are deeply religious and we have occasional conversations about how they interpret issues in light of their faiths. On any given day, I might be talking with CEOs, immigrants, waiters, educators…I try to avoid any echo chambers.
Still, I would be arrogant in the extreme to suggest that I really know more than a trace of their reality. I have no idea what it’s like to grow up black, to leave your family to settle in a new land, to bridge the conflicts in a family business, or any other feature of their lives. I can get closer to their humanity, but I cannot reach the core without a ton of additional effort. And vice versa, of course.
We’re all a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, witnessing and interacting in a small portion of someone else’s life. We might think we know what’s happening, but we can be wildly off base in some of our conclusions. After enough time and too many repetitions of the same conversation, it’s easy to opine from an insight that is way off base.
Every so often, I’ll be tempted to share an opinion, explaining what someone else should do, because I know so much about their lives, their values, their families, their finances, their fears, their friends and, of course, their favorite pizza toppings. I’ve been pretty successful in fighting that temptation lately, informed by the lessons of our poorly planned visit to Minnesota.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.