I received an email from Gwen, a former client, whose husband is battling cancer: “Chris is doing as well as can be expected – cancer sucks. We’ve been maneuvering our way through the subculture of the very sick and we’re doing okay. It’s interesting how many subcultures exist in the world and go unseen until circumstances just plop a person right in the middle of a new world.”
I was struck by Gwen’s observation on the “subcultures” we’re unaware of. I actually think there really is no such thing as “the” real world. Whatever world you’re in is the “real” world for you. The trick is to be able to navigate with ease and success through several different “real” worlds.
I learned this from my college mentor, Marguerite Young who wrote, “Miss MacIntosh, My Darling” (fifth longest novel written in English). I met her when she was recuperating from cancer surgery. In our first conversation, she told me that she never wore the same clothes twice. She decided that if she masterfully disguised herself then maybe Death wouldn’t recognize her. For a boy who had grown up in a sheltered, Irish Catholic family, this was a head-spinning concept!
Marguerite taught me not only to not be afraid of people different from me, she taught me to actively seek out people different from me. I was inspired by her advice years later when I taught a public speaking class at LMU.
For one assignment, I divided the class into groups of four. Each group had to share a meal and the catch was that they had to prepare the meal as a group – they couldn’t go to a restaurant or order out. They had to spend two hours together and couldn’t have any electronic distractions, i.e. no cell phone, TV, radio, etc. Also, everyone had to tell a true story about themselves.
Most students were annoyed, whining that they didn’t have time to eat with a bunch of strangers and besides, what did eating have to do with speaking in public?
When the groups shared their experiences, though, the overwhelming majority couldn’t believe how eye-opening the meal had been. Through conversation, strangers realized that they had more in common than they thought. “Sub-cultures” had been shared and through the sharing people seemed less “strange.” Because people were no longer strangers, students felt more comfortable speaking.
Next month I’m offering a workshop on “Acting Techniques For Business Professionals.” A weekly assignment will require participants to speak to someone at work they don’t know well and learn what they can about the person.
The truth is – our world is only as narrow as we make it. How many “real” worlds are you a part of?!
Please send your questions to JP Reynolds at: firstname.lastname@example.org