And what do you do?

July 17, 2011 at 9:19 pm Leave a comment

I really don’t like small talk. It’s the ‘Who are you, what do you do?’ brand of small talk that I dislike the most. Small talk amongst fellow professionals I can stand, you’re all in it together after all! It’s the small talk outside of work that I try to avoid. The problem for me is the first question you’re asked, ‘What do you do?’ because in the western capitalist world, apparently what you do defines who you are.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not secretly an eastern communist, I just think that there’s more to me than my job. In Uganda, the first question you are asked is about your parents., because your heritage is what is important, where you came from. It’s also one of the first questions you’re asked in St Ives. ‘Who do ee belong to?’ or ‘Who’s maid are ee?’ What Cornish family do you fit into, ie. are you local or are you a ‘furrener’ (=foreigner, and by that I mean east of the River Tamar…).

What I don’t like is the excitement in the eyes of the person I’ve just met as they realise a whole host of potential topics of conversation just opened up. For me, the conversation becomes a bit like those adventure books you read when you were younger, the ones where you chose the adventure;

 eg. ‘As you are walking along the road, you meet a stranger. If you choose to follow the stranger, turn to p42. if you choose to walk away, turn to p.3.’

 p42 – ‘The stranger robs you and throws you off a cliff. The end.’

p3 – ‘You go back to your usual life. Nothing happens. The end.’

I wasn’t a fan.

So here we go;

Stranger (hopefully not the robbing-throwing-off-a-cliff type): So what do you do?

Me: I teach RE and PSHE.

The response depends upon the situation. It falls into 2 categories; the response if I’m asked in church and the response if I’m asked outside of church. Generally, it can be divided into the religious and the non-religious.

1) Response if in church: “Oh! really? do you have to teach other religions? How close can you go to sharing your own faith?” ie. can you get away with proselytising? Well, the answer is always; that is not my job. I am there to encourage children to enquire and to find out for themselves, to ask probing questions and seek an answer. To be dissatisfied with the answers they are given and to continue to seek until they find. Potentially till the end of their lives. It is my job to encourage empathy in young people, understanding, acceptance and tolerance of others with different ethnicity, beliefs and cultures to their own.

The Christian stranger is not always happy with this answer. Did they hope for something more agreeable? or something more ‘small-talky’? Because it’s not a topic for small talk is it?

2) Response outside of church; “Oh really? do you believe yourself? is it right that a believer should teach children that sort of thing? should RE be taught in schools?” (this is where my answer reverts to the above). The alternative response; “Oh. I don’t believe in God.”

*sigh*

We’ve just met, could we talk about something else?

I think the thing is, I just don’t want a theological debate as soon as I meet someone. Certainly not on a date! (which incidently has happened…). The important thing at that moment is that I am not at work. We spend most of our waking hours at work, surely we don’t want to spend our free time talking about it? There is more to life and the people we are than what we do for a living. There is more to me than my job.

of course there is a third response;

3) “What’s PSHE?”

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A kairos moment

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