What is the common theme of any movie, book, piece of art or song that you consider great? Is it art´s ability to carry you away, or to see the world through another lens? Is it because it makes you laugh, cry, remember, forget?
Movies, books, music etc all have this wonderful capability making us feel, of giving us wings (or as my late friend Henry used to day “it makes us forget about our legs).
But you do not have to pick up a book, go to a museum or the cinema to be swept away.
The person sitting next you has this same power.
We all do: we just simply have to learn to ask the right questions.
The right question can take you out of a dirty bar or a hip cafe, it can make you forget about all your problems and can even open up a whole new world, figuratively and in some cases even literally.
Asking the right question to hear someone else´s story is one way to do this.
Asking the right question to actually help write your own story is a whole other ball-game.
I was recently reminded of this often over-looked power of questions when listening to Tim Ferriss´s podcast with Cal Fussman (quick side: might be my favourite episode)
Cal is best known for his Esquire column “What I´ve Learned” and is a NYTimes best-selling author.
When Cal was younger he travelled the world on a limited budget for 10 years by simply asking a variation of this simple question: How do you make your goulash?
Ask a Hungarian grandmother this question and see what happens. As you might imagine a whole new world can open up for you, it did for Cal. This question got him a full belly and 6 weeks of free housing in Hungry as he got passed around from family to family.
Think about it, how easy was it for your own grandmother/father etc. to get caught up in a story? Do you remember the look in their eye and the lines on their face when thinking back?
Cal learned quickly in his life that “people like talking about their lives”, and it does not have to be a groundbreaking question, as Cal demonstrated it can be as easy as asking a question about the local food or traditions.
The Hungarian grandmother in this story announced after Cal asked her how she made her goulash, “all these years of riding this train, not one person has asked me how I make my goulash and this American, sitting here, did”. That was Cal´s secret weapon: he got people talking about themselves.
Want to travel the world for free, then be like Cal and find something you are interested in, wherever you are, and search out a local expert. You never know, it might just be the woman sitting by herself on the train.
There are a million lessons to pull out from Cal and Tim´s talk, but this one stuck with me because it follows the theme of this blog, that life can change on a dime and with a knock on the door. You just have to heed the lesson from Cal and go out there and redden your knuckles.
It is very easy to forget to ask these types of questions with people you see everyday (comparable to never site-seeing in your own city), but just imagine if you how much your relationships would improve.
I would like to get better at this.
What about you?