What you do vs. who you are

Hello lovely friends,

In the Intercultural Communication course, we’ve been examining masculine vs. feminine cultural values.  In particular, we’ve been discussing attitudes toward work – “making a living” – and how we form opinions of people based upon their occupations.

In Western cultures, one of the first questions we ask when we meet a new person is “What do you do?”  What we mean is, “What do you do to earn money?” i.e., “What is your occupation?”  The answer to this question will allow us to classify our new acquaintance according to income level, education level, and social class.

Image result for cocktail party

But is one’s occupation truly a window into who they are?

We discussed how it’s a privileged attitude to assume that people choose their occupation from among many options, that they choose an occupation they enjoy, and that they find emotional and spiritual fulfillment in their work life.  For many people (the vast majority, perhaps?) a job is a way of paying the bills, and personal fulfillment is something that happens outside of work.

So what does this question reveal?  Not much.  Before I was a college professor, my jobs included waiting tables, cashiering, and working retail.  At one time, my answer to “What do you do?” would have been “I’m a cashier at Rite Aid” or “I’m a waitress.”

I am not criticizing such occupations, and I know that many people happily work in such positions for a lifetime, but I wanted something different.  You would never have known it, though, unless you asked me.

Image result for young woman dreaming of better life

Let’s be mindful of our cultural tendency to judge people by their occupations, and that the answer to “What do you do?” won’t get us to the deeper question of “Who are you, really?”  If we are truly interested in those around us, asking for their job titles is just a beginning.  I like to add, “What do you enjoy most about that?”  It’s amazing how people react to that question – with a quick and eager response, or by saying “Not much, really.”  Then I ask, “What would you LIKE to do?” and we talk about that.  They light up with excitement.

What do you like most about your job?  I love that I get to read and write, to teach and learn, and to help young people achieve their goals.

Winnie and the Professor

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