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So, what do you do?
On company Christmas parties, Theodore Roosevelt's advice, and how we choose first to introduce ourselves
The holidays are often a time of introductions. At company holiday parties, family get-togethers, and neighborhood open houses, people find themselves turning to small talk as they encounter other people for the first (or second) time.
■ The go-to question among Americans is almost always "What do you do for a living?" The problem isn't the question, but the danger of making assumptions based on the answers. Career and character are two entirely different things, but they're often hard for us to segregate adequately.
■ Dan Brooks -- whose occupation the reader doesn't need to know -- puts it well: "[P]lease stop forming concepts of folks based on what they do. Some of us have fixed identities that both determine our behavior and exist independently from it, and it's exhausting to have to keep explaining that."
■ It's sound modern advice. We are a hard-working country, as well we should be. But we often don't introduce non-occupational value into circulation like we should. It's awkward to shoehorn it into conversation ("Are you more of a stoic or a utilitarian?"), and the more cynical we permit our culture to be, the less likely it is to find its way in naturally.
■ More than a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "Bodily vigor is good, and vigor of intellect is even better, but far above both is character."
■ Careers change. Entire industries come and go. Nobody is a lamplighter anymore, and we're told that artificial intelligence will destroy lots of jobs in the future.
■ But we continue to revere people -- both public figures and family legends -- for acts of character and honor. It wouldn't hurt any of us to find more ways to naturally integrate measures of fixed identity into conversation, at the holidays or any other time of year. It might not make for intuitive introductory conversation, but it should probably place somewhere before occupational chatter.