This summer we went on a long ten hour car trip with our family. My five year old daughter loved playing ‘eye-spy,’ but after a few hours ‘eye-spy’ can become more than a little tedious. So we introduced her to ‘would you rather’ and had fun coming up with new conversations together. For hours we debated the essential questions of life like: would rather eat a hair or lick a frog. Five-year-olds are the best.
In our own communities we may sometimes find ourselves sticking with familiar conversations, and small talk is ok. It may be helpful to be reminded that we are also allowed to have fun conversations, too. After talking about the weather and our weekend plans, we can give ourselves permission to talk about strange and wonderful idea, ask new questions, and share our musings aloud. Fun conversations are not just for kids, between adults meandering story-telling and open ended questions help us feel at home. Some of my own best memories with friends and neighbours are when we have allowed conversations to stray into the unpredictable and whimsical. These conversations do not happen in mere passing, however. They only emerge by spending time together on patios, over a board game, or after a lazy meal. Creative conversations are the fruit of trust and the gift of living open to your community.
Rob Walker, the author of “The Art of Noticing” has been and avid collector of ice-breaker conversations. He says he is fond of collecting these questions because they open doors to knowing people in new ways. Here are a few of examples:
If you could be someone else for a day, who would you be?
If you could own one building, any building, what would it be?
Tell me about something you love doing that you’re terrible at. And tell me about something you really do not like doing that you’re great at.
Would you rather be able to speak every language in the world fluently, or be able to play every musical instrument as well a virtuoso.
Ask someone how they got their name.
What is a supposedly fun thing that you did — that you’ll never do again?
What is your oldest and most cherished grudge?
I was speaking at a workshop on neighbourhoods in Moncton a few months ago and asked people to come up and tell us the story behind their names, using one of Rob Walker’s questions. I was surprised and delighted that as each of these people told their stories, telling about their families and history, that the others in the room were on the edge of their seats. In hearing a name and the story behind it, this simple creative conversation starter changed the posture of the people attending. We were not strangers after that exercise, we felt like we knew something special about each other. We saw each other as more than a face, but a person with history and value.
Creative conversations are a vital part of being in community. They help us to know each other and discover that the people who live near us are much more interesting than we might imagine. Ask, share, wonder, and have fun.