As somewhat of a socially able person, I have found myself in countless situations where I have overcome the awkwardness of social interaction with small talk. Now don’t get me wrong, small talk is a valuable tool in social contexts. But it is superficial, shallow and forgetful. And I am guilty. I waste so much of my time using small talk as an exit strategy that I don’t ever allow the possibility of really getting to know the people around me.
I want my relationships to be more than just small talk. As corny as it sounds, I guess I want to connect with people at a deeper level, find out who they are and learn what is genuinely important to them. Of course this is never going to happen in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Can you imagine stopping in the corridor and saying to your friend ‘what worries you more than anything in the world?’ It would violate many unwritten rules of social interaction to act in such a way (and it would be tiresome to have to think about the deeper questions in life too often!).
Luckily, my lecturing position has allowed me to create a context where such questioning could be acceptable, enabling me to gain a unique insight into the faces that crowd my classroom. At the beginning of a lecture one Thursday afternoon I told my students that I wanted more for my relationship with them than just to be ‘another lecturer’. I explained to them that small talk keeps us in a social comfort zone, but that magical relationships and connection can only develop when we invest our time asking questions designed to discover who people really are.
So I offered them a deal. During every class any person could ask me any question. I promised that I would answer truthfully. However, the deal also required something from the students themselves.
They had to record a video of themselves answering truthfully any question that I asked, and in return I would donate a small amount of money to a charity of my choosing. At the end of their video they had to nominate and question one or two friends that they would like to know that little bit better. They finally had to describe the charity they would donate to should their friends take part in the exercise.
It didn’t take long for the students to become enthusiastic about the project. Needless to say, they have come to know me a lot better in the past few weeks. Indeed I’ve told them things that many of my close friends don’t know about me! And in my world, where I have met many people at the level of small talk, the opportunity to get to know my students better has been quite something.
However, I thought it would be a shame if the richness that came from this exercise were limited to the 3rd year undergraduate Psychology students of Warwick University. ‘Question, Nominate, Donate (QND)’ affords us the chance to connect with people that we may not have had the opportunity to, with those we are unlikely to connect with in the future and with those that we may already know pretty well. People don’t generally walk around telling their family and friends how much they mean to them, or what keeps them up at night, or what their deepest fear is. We speak to each other so often and yet what do we actually know about each other? This exercise aims to bring us all a little closer together. The cost; a small donation to charity.
It is ironic because social media websites allow us to be closer than we ever have been, but how much of our interaction on such websites is meaningful, and how much is superficial? If you are willing then get involved with this project. When someone nominates you to answer a question about yourself, answer the question, post it to your Facebook page, nominate (and tag) someone else and make a donation to charity when they return the sentiment. If you are unsure of what a QND video should look like, or are unsure of how worthwhile such an escapade might be, then I’d love you to watch the video below in which some brave students have opened up and let the world in.