On occasion, I like to ask weird questions. After reading Mansfield Park the first time, I spent the better part of a summer asking friends if they thought they could identify with a character who marries their first cousin. It provoked a lot of interesting conversations, including one that lasted most of an overnight security shift with DBG.

But of late I’ve not read anything quite so thought provoking or conversation starting. While thus deprived of usual stirring debate–I noticed something about my interactions with other people.

Quite often, it’s not the first question I ask that elicits a response–it’s the second.

I wonder if it’s a societal conditioning. We are short in the first answer to not unnecessarily waste the time of our listener. How often do you answer the question “How are you?” with “Fine.” It’s a short answer, acknowledging the asker without actually beginning a conversation. Granted, one can change up short answers to confuse the masses (answer “vacuous” the next time you feel like your brain is on vacation–see how many people chuckle and how many people stare strangely at you…) but generally we all fall into line with a nice, neutral, polite comment. It’s not really a conversation–it’s polite noise.

But then a second question unlocks the tongue. Now we’ve actually engaged in a dialog other than the general state of our well being. As the asker, it’s my responsibility to figure out the appropriate question–whether that be a coworker’s children, a child’s choice of reading material, or an adult patron’s quest for a certain topic. It’s a step beyond polite, offering a little more human interaction. And for me, I’ve noticed it produces quite interesting results. That shy child who shows you a book suddenly launches into a discourse of why that’s their favorite book EVER; the coworker might offer up a really hilarious anecdote; the patron may clarify in a way that helps you to more sympathetically choose materials.

Why does this matter? It doesn’t really, but I think it’s something to be aware of when we’re giving and receiving customer service. There’s something about asking that second question that provides more humanity and helps you to connect with the person. It need not necessarily be the most detailed connection ever, but for that moment you set aside the rest of your day to hear from someone else.

And when on the receiving end, which I was surprisingly while grabbing a cup of coffee yesterday, it allows me to pause and step out of my thoughts and not just function on social autopilot. It also set me up with another woman coming to the Knit In Public day in April!! (Bonus points to self for recruiting more knitters to come)

So…all that being said–do you think you could marry a first cousin?