Woodland Elementary School…5th grade…Mr. Sanders’ class. I don’t remember what the class was called, but it was probably along the lines of Miscellaneous Social Topics. Among other things, we discussed sex ed and drug abuse, and one day, we played “Who are you?” Maybe it was inspired by The Who’s song that came out a few years earlier.
For the uninitiated, “Who are you?” is a simple exercise where one person is in the hot seat while another person repeatedly asks, “Who are you?” There may or may not be others present, but it can get deeply personal and awkward very fast. I still don’t know why this was a good idea with a room full of fifth graders.
Fast forward about 35 years to this past week and you’d find me in training (once again) being paired off with someone I didn’t know in order to play “Who are you?” For my extroverted partner, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but for introverts like me, this was the emotional equivalent of being strip searched by the TSA.
Not only was I having flashbacks to elementary school, but I was quickly looking at the cards in my hand deciding which ones to play and which ones to not play. It’s not that I have a lot of secrets in my life; on the contrary, I try to be pretty open and transparent. But just because I’m open, doesn’t mean I’m an exhibitionist.
Some things I just may not want to expend the energy on explaining to you, stranger. Birding is a prime example. It’s a socially acceptable activity, though a bit eccentric. I have a story of how I got into it and why I am still into. There have been highs, lows, triumphs, and challenges in this area of my life. But I operate under the assumption that most people don’t really care that much. I’m usually right.
Who am I? I am an introvert. (I think that was my third or fourth answer in our exercise.) It’s not that I don’t like talking about myself; everyone does under the right conditions. For me, those right conditions are that you are genuinely interested in me and that you have taken the time to build trust. Small talk is like graffiti — there is too much of it and I don’t see it as art, despite some people’s proclamations to the contrary.
I appreciate the intent of the exercise of getting us beyond name, job title, and marital and parental status. Those are important, but we are more than that. I’m reminded of the scene in Groundhog Day where Phil is explaining to Rita that because of being caught in the same day, he knows a lot about a lot of people, including her.
It’s a powerful moment in the film as Phil reveals his intimate knowledge of her. This kind of intimacy takes time and openness and trust to build. We have to feel that we are going receive a return on our investment. Rita’s character had nothing to be ashamed of by liking boats but not the ocean, but we are given the impression that it was not something she told just anyone. Why would she? The only reason for her to share that is in the process of deepening a relationship.
Who am I? Well, I like boats too, and I’m a little leery of the ocean.