Humanizing Social Interactions

By Pankaj Debbarma

June 1, 2024

In a world increasingly driven by economic metrics and professional achievements, our social interactions often reflect this narrow focus. The default question in many conversations, “What do you do for a living?” immediately places emphasis on an individual’s job role, reducing their identity to economic contributions. This question, while seemingly harmless, can dehumanize our interactions by prioritizing what a person does to earn money over who they are as a person. To foster deeper connections and more meaningful conversations, we must shift our focus from economic roles to personal fulfilments and happiness.

The Problem with Economic-Centric Interactions

When we centre our interactions around what people do for a living, we inadvertently create a hierarchy based on job titles and income levels. This can lead to judgment and comparison, overshadowing the rich diversity of human experiences. Such a narrow focus can also alienate those who may not have traditional job roles, such as private tutors, part-time workers, students, retirees, or stay-at-home parents, making them feel undervalued or irrelevant in social contexts.

Moreover, this approach can contribute to a culture of overwork and stress. When our identities are tied so closely to our professions, we may feel pressured to achieve and succeed at all costs, often at the expense of our well-being and personal happiness. This can lead to burnout, anxiety, and a diminished sense of self-worth.

Shifting the Focus: What Makes You Happy?

To humanize our social interactions, we should start by asking, “What do you do to be happy?” This question shifts the focus from economic roles to personal fulfilment. It encourages people to share their passions, hobbies, and the activities that bring them joy. By doing so, we acknowledge that a person’s value is not solely determined by their job but by the richness of their experiences and the diversity of their interests.

Asking about happiness can lead to more engaging and meaningful conversations. It opens the door to discovering common interests, learning new perspectives, and appreciating the multifaceted nature of human existence. This approach fosters empathy and connection, as we begin to see each other as whole individuals with unique stories and aspirations.

Balancing Happiness and Profession

Of course, professional roles are an important part of many people’s lives, and acknowledging this is essential. After exploring what makes someone happy, we can follow up with, “Besides being happy, what do you do for a living?” This balanced approach allows us to understand how individuals integrate their work with their personal lives. It acknowledges the importance of economic roles while ensuring they do not overshadow other aspects of a person’s identity.

This follow-up question respects the complexity of modern life, where work and personal fulfilment often intersect. It allows for a more holistic view of a person’s life, highlighting how their professional and personal pursuits coexist and complement each other.

Lessons from My Grandfather

Reflecting on my grandfather’s life offers a profound example of the richness that can lie behind a single question. His existence was a symphony of roles, from jhum cultivator to distiller, hut builder, and healer. Each aspect of his life contributed to the multifacetedness of his identity, illustrating that human beings are not defined by a single role but by the sum of their experiences, passions, and contributions.

His multifaceted existence reminds us that true human connection goes beyond job titles and economic status. It is about understanding and appreciating the diverse aspects of each person’s life. By focusing on what brings us joy and fulfilment, we can create a culture that values the whole person, fostering deeper, more meaningful relationships.

Reprogramming our acquaintance questioning to focus on happiness instead of economic roles can significantly enhance our interactions and relationships. By asking, “What do you do to be happy?” and following up with, “Besides being happy, what do you do for a living?” we prioritize personal fulfilment and well-being. This shift can help rehumanize our social interactions and create a culture that values the whole person, not just their economic contribution. Let’s make this change and start valuing each other for the joy and happiness we bring into our lives and the lives of others.

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