Friday 18 July 2014

Knowing and Knowing About People

Last week while I was attending one of my school camps, I happened to talk to one of my fellow OGLs regarding the matter of HTHT. (heart-to-heart-talk) To be honest, it's a word I almost never hear in JC, but is so prominent in university. I do not know who started this culture of having HTHT in school camps, but I guess his/her intentions have been diluted significantly. My guess is that it was intended to be used as a platform to make friends that go beyond the camp itself; friendships that will last in the long-term. But instead, it has become a session that, suffice to say, is but a shadow of its actual intent. Regardless, while thinking about what exactly is HTHT, or the point of it, I surprised myself by answering: "It's so that we know and are known by each other." So I came to the conclusion that HTHT is for knowing people. Not what they do, but who they are.

Constrastingly, a few days ago while having cellgroup, my cellgroup leader mentioned that we do not know enough about each other's life - our conversion/turning point story, for example. That struck a chord with me. I came to the conclusion that indeed, it is also important to know about people, not just who they are, but what they have done and what they have gone through. For through these we also understand the person better, why they think in such manners and their train of thought and also what they are going through in their lives at the moment. So with these 2 incidents, I came to this conclusion:

Relationships/friendships are formed and sustained when we know and know about the person. Both are vital.

Let me go into further details about the mechanics and the effects of each component. UPDATE: Take note that the angle of this post is more on the different kinds of information we can receive from someone and not how to perceive that information.

UPDATE #2: I received a comment that people have differing standards of friendship and how to maintain it. I agree, but that is not within the scope of this post. Very loosely and simplistically, my understanding of "friendship" in this post is with regards to the level of intimacy between two people in a friendship.

UPDATE #3: There is also a comment on the difference between who people are and who they think they are, i.e. their self-image/self-concept. Here in this post, I'm making no distinction between the two as usually they are not so different that who the person actually is is a totally different person from who he/she thinks he/she is.

Knowing about people
This is very similar to playing the game "I have never", where people state things that they have or have never done before. Here, I will extend it to include things that happened to them, and also the things like their likes/dislikes/habits etc. To know what is in the life of this person, what's happening and what has happened and so on. This is important as it allows us to relate to this person based on similar interests/experience and be sensitive towards their situation, and also how to help or receive help from this person. 'Knowing about' the person paves to way for interaction to take place in a beneficial manner for both parties.

Knowing people
The other side of the coin, 'knowing' people is, in summary, when you can answer this question: 'What would <person's name> do in such a situation?' and answer it correctly. It's like the game "First Impressions", you do not know anything about the person, but still you come to a conclusion based on his/her behavior, character, personality, values, priorities and so on. This is important because it helps in making the person you're interacting with a human being. To you, he/she then becomes a living person, with feelings, thoughts, struggles, joys, rights and so on. If you do not know the person, then it's akin to reading a textbook on someone, or perhaps a really really boring biography about his/her achievements only. Have you ever felt like you don't feel close to a particular person, or that someone is very boring? That's probably because you do not know him/her, but only about him/her. 

Sources do not matter - I want to highlight that whether its from either primary or secondary source that we know and know about a person does not matter, although often there is much more information that we can receive when we interact personally with someone. However, this does not mean that if we hear from the person directly, then we only 'know' the person, but does not 'know about' the person. The same goes for secondary sources. What is important is your own way of perceiving the information. I can't really give a good example, because in most cases you can both 'know' and also 'know about' the person from the same chunk of information. My point is that you can also understand the person better by hearing about him/her from a third party, it doesn't have to be from the person him/herself.

People who like to express themselves in terms of what they do:
I would like to highlight that some people often talk about what they do when you ask about them or their lives. Often, it's not easy to know them through what they do. Therefore, we should try to direct the conversation towards the internal aspects of their activities. For example, for someone who likes to do rock-climbing, we can go one step further to ask why they do it, what about it that they like (perhaps they like the challenge of it). Through this we get a glimpse of the internal thought process and of the person and so know the person better. Do take note that at times the reason people do not delve into the internal aspects is because they don't think that you're expecting those kind of answers. In those cases, just rephrase your question or ask more. In some other times, it can be because they don't trust you enough to share. When that happens, it is fine to just know about them for the time being. It is true that it takes some amount of vulnerability and trust for people to let other people 'know' them, rather than 'know about' them.

Being known
As we know and know about other people more, we also need to let others know and know about us. While most of us would not have trouble doing so over a long period of time, it is not easy to do so within a short time. How do we build a friendship that will last, within a couple of days? Perhaps within an orientation camp, an internship experience, a short-term missions trip. Some of you may think that it is impossible for the people you meet during these short few days to have much impact over your life in the long run. Or that the "real" friendship can't be built over a few days. While that it true in some sense, as Christians, we still have to give them our best. It is a fact that there are often many people with whom we have limited time, or very limited time with. But God did not put such people in our life for no reason and expect us to just enjoy the programme and not the people in it. And hey, as a practical matter-of-fact, isn't it easier to maintain a friendship which have already blossomed to a significant extent over a few days, as compared to one in which takes extreme effort and intentionality after the opportunity (whether camp/STM) is over?

So how does one do it? Frankly, there is no magic formula. But just a couple of tips:
  1. If there is no window to talk or let other people know/know about you, initiate conversations - but make sure you're not the centre of the conversation (we don't want to sound like some egomaniac)
  2. Talk about things people are interested in or they do it too. Find common topics to talk about. How do you know what are the common topics? Ask about their school/job/where they stay/pets/traffic light status/ambitions/hobbies. Whatever. People respond much more favourably when you talk about something they understand. UPDATE #3: I received a comment that if we understand the person but not who the person thinks he/she is, it might be difficult to see things the way he/she sees it. That's a valid opinion. Yet I find that in most cases as long as we care about what the person cares about, it would suffice to help one see things from the other parties' point of view.
  3. Mix your conversation with things you do and also your thought process and how you feel. It makes the story much more personal and rich. If you simply talk about the 'doing' (the physical activity), believe me that you'll run out of things to talk about very very soon. (plus your story may become boring quickly without the details)
  4. Find appropriate pauses during the conversation to 'switch' the attention to: after talking about yourself for a few sentences/story, ask the other person for their input. After letting the person talk about his/her story, switch back to you etc. It's not so much important who talks, but who the attention is on. If the person is the shy/quiet kind or you feel like they are still not very comfortable with you, it is fine to do most of the talking/talk about yourself just a little bit more. Ensure that there is enough 'switching' of the attention, from you to the other party and vice versa.
  5. Absolute sincerity and shamelessness. Sincerity will be what convinces the person that you just want to make friends with them and have no ulterior motive. Shamelessness will help you express your sincerity in your actions. Do not fear rumors that you're being 'overly concerned' with someone in the group or that you're 'weird'. (of course, do watch your boundaries with the opposite gender!) Especially in school camps with non-believers, do not conform with the 'usual norms' of interaction. As an OGL, go one step further to express your sincerity in shameless manners. As fellow OGmates, talk and engage them. 
Based on my own experience, when I did the above, the programme becomes secondary. I always enjoy those few short days I have with them and out of them, I always make friends that I still will keep long long long after the camps ended.

When you can't/don't know how to continue the conversation:
Here I will list some of the common obstacles and also difficult scenarios in 'knowing' and 'knowing about' other people.
  1. The group is too big to know a particular person. Perhaps you're in an orientation group of 20 people, or in a lunch/dinner with 10+ colleagues at work. 
  2. You cannot relate to the person. This can be either because you're missing the relevant experience or this person lives in a world that is vastly different from yours, in terms of culture/sub-culture. 
  3. The person pisses you off or makes you very annoyed/uncomfortable. Or they are engaging in vices/undesirable behavior. 
  4. You are shy or feels awkward to talk to others (maybe your elders/parents/seniors etc)
My comments: (sorry about the formatting issues, I'm not good with HTML and bloggers default options are pretty limited!)
  1. Group is too big. Try to create more situations whereby there are more one-to-one or small group settings. For example, at lunch, ask a particular person (or two) to go buy food with you. Or volunteer to look after things while the rest go buy food. Or go toilet together. During such times, talk to them and engage them with what I wrote above. You'll be surprised how these few minutes can help in building a friendship. Once you're back at the table, you can now always continue to talk to that particular person based on the budding friendship. Note that there is no need to be the "star" of the group or be familiar with every single one - it's just almost impossible with a few short days/weeks. (of course, if you're there permanently for the next few months, work towards it, one person at a time :D) As the friendship progresses, you can also do things like go out eat together, catch a movie, meet up to study/work and so on. Just be careful that it doesn't become too exclusive ( but a tiny amount of exclusivity would probably be beneficial!)
  2. Cannot relate/no common topic. In this case, get the other party to talk more about themselves. Until you find one that you can somehow relate to, at least a bit. Usually there will definitely be a common ground, but might be less obvious. For finding ways to relate, we should be as open-minded and creative as possible because at times, if we are able to create parallels in the topics of interest, then it is very easy to relate to the person. If you really cannot find anything, relate based on emotions and logic - the universal similarity amongst all humans. Or based on personality of the person also e.g. being similar in straightforwardness, being adventurous, being lazy. So perhaps for adventurous people, after the other party share his/her story, you can also talk about your own adventures. 
  3. Non-extreme inappropriate behavior on the other party. My personal opinion is that most people who exhibit inappropriate behaviour, whether by speech or conduct, only do it in a group. So perhaps you find that your group often make lewd remarks or indecent jokes. Or they continually bitch about someone and gossip a lot. I'm not sure what the best response is, but often when I talk to them personally, mostly one-to-one, these things aren't what we talk about. I think it's because a) I portray myself to be one who isn't really interested/amused by inappropriate content - I don't judge them when they do it or have the morally superior aura, I just brush it aside like it doesn't concern me, and also b) most people are more interested about other things in their lives - their passions, concerns, ambitions, goals etc. Lewd content is just for 'humor' and gossiping, well, the truth is that it doesn't affect their life significantly. So when I talk to them, I talk about the things that interest them personally. So I still have a personal friendship with these people, although in the group I tend to keep from talking to the whole group. In fact in such situations, Christians who try to 'speak up' often get beaten down by the whole group. After all, it's 1 against 10! Or 2 against 10 or something. If it's something that God wants you to say to them, sure, go ahead. But more often than not, I avoid confrontations and speak against all these inappropriate behaviors at the personal level based on the friendship. Though I think it is not wrong to speak up for what is right, I only do so if I have that credibility (authority is a bonus) to speak to them in a group and that they will most likely listen. If not, it'll just have the effect of drawing a "moral line" and the antagonistic nature of everyone, including myself. Note: For extreme inappropriate behavior. Call police. J/K. Actually I don't know, never really faced such situations before.
  4. Get out of your comfort zone and try.
Regardless of the obstacles in between us and making friends with other people, let's try to depend on the supernatural will of God. It is good to have methods, but ultimately what our 'salt' and 'light' is made of comes from God in the form of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. ) 

Whenever you're stuck, remember this verse: 
Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders, making the most or every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
And pray for supernatural wisdom! God will help you out for sure :D Thanks for all those who commented on my blog :D:D Keep the comments coming!

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Agree that we can ask people why they doing what they doing to go deeper. Important to step out of our comfort zone and be intentional in spending personal time to know people more as well