A "Philosopher's" Guide to D.C.
As I’m wont to do, I left. Without as much as a farewell. The situation wasn’t for me, so I walked out the front door. I still had to wait outside for an Uber, though.
It was cold, but a few people were outside smoking, so I wasn’t alone. Unfortunately, I had done that thing where you stumble into a conversation you might prefer to not be a part of. My first tip-off was the fact that I was referred to as “player” multiple times upon stepping outside.
I didn’t really say anything to this person other than to acknowledge his presence. He was having a conversation with another person in which I was entirely uninvolved...until he decided to bring me into his “philosophy.” (An important note: I’m not calling it “philosophy.” He called it “philosophy.” That’s what brought me back to the conversation.)
“How do you like that philosophy?” he asked as I descended the stairs upon the (merciful) arrival of my Uber.
I guess I should explain this person’s “philosophy.” His idea was that there is a “very D.C.” question (“What do you do?”) that gets asked ad nauseum. This is true in the sense that it is asked very often, but I don’t think it is a question particular to the Washington area. Really, it’s a question that people of a certain background ask one another. But either way, this person felt that it was a bad question to ask, so his idea—his “philosophy”—was that we should instead ask people what they do outside of work.
He and his companion were discussing how comparatively thoughtful this new question was. I stood quietly, but intently, until I could see my Civic-shaped chariot pulling up. It wasn’t until I was descending the stairs that I was asked about the merits of the “philosophy.”
Now, it was probably reasonable that these fellows assumed I was drunk (they may have been themselves). Fortunately, I was not. When my opinion was sought, I turned back and responded that it was an acceptable alternative, but that by asking what someone does—even if it’s outside of the context of their employment—you’re still framing the question in such a way that “what someone does” is more important than who they are.
The philosopher looked perplexed. The non-philosopher chimed in that they liked to read, which was not the same as the type of side projects the philosopher was probably looking for as an answer. So, the philosopher queried: “But if you don’t ask what they do, how will you know what they really care about?”
The response? “If they really care about something, they’ll let you know without your asking.” At that point, I left for real.
The question of what do you do is a bad one. It’s lazy. But any question that’s similarly direct is lazy as well. It would seem that the expectation of instantaneous information has altered the social mindset. If you don’t have the patience to get to know who someone is—if you must skip ahead to the part where you get to assess the value of their hobbies and interests—then why do you care at all whether they hike mountain trails or grow tomatoes or record a podcast?
So how did I like the “philosophy?” I appreciated it because, as philosophies so often do, it told me a great deal about the philosopher. He’s “one of the good ones,” trying to “make things better.” But sometimes you pull one weed and think you’ve fixed the problem, when the reality is that the whole garden is overgrown right now. Be patient. The plight may yet be overcome if we’re given the time to be who we are, rather than having to constantly tell people about the things we do.