Yesterday, a friend organized a group dinner with eight people. I only knew the host, and I don’t think the others knew everyone else either. At first, the conversation was open but a bit slow. You know, one person telling a story while the remaining guests throw in one-line comments here and there.
Eventually, however, the discourse broke into smaller groups, and I always find it fascinating how that transition happens. In my case, the woman next to me had mentioned seeing an orthopedist, and at some point, I just turned around and asked her: “What’s that about?”
You would not believe the two hours of conversation that followed. We talked about her foot issues, sure, but I also learned she ran marathons, and triathlons, and considered sports the anchor keeping her life together. We talked about what that means, “keeping one’s life together,” what emotions meant in that context, and how neither of us had really learned to process theirs well as a child. We each shared personal moments from our family histories, brushed on philosophy, psychology, and faith, and in the end, we agreed that our experiences shape us but needn’t define us.
That’s pretty amazing, don’t you think? For two strangers to have that kind of interaction. And all it took was one question. “What’s that about?” A single string of conversation, unraveled into a million colorful threads. This is humanity at its best.
I didn’t go out on a big limb by asking her that question. It felt casual — but it would have been easy not to ask it. To stick with the group discussion. You never know who you’re sitting next to. Chances are, they are fascinating. The right question might open a million doors, and behind those doors, you may find inspiration, connection, and astonishment.
Listening is great, and most of the time, it’s also the right thing to do. But the most interesting stories you’ll ever hear will most likely be the ones following a curious question. Ask more questions.