How An American Show About Nothing Changed My Life
I was moved when I read the sincerity and the vulnerability expressed in these words from a reader to an earlier blog:
“I almost always have problems when it comes to striking a conversation with people whom I just met. The whole thing gets me nervous like what should I say? Is he/she interested in the same thing as I am?”
I wanted to reach out to the writer and reassuringly clasp his hand between my palms and share what little I know. The first word I could think of — Seinfeld, “the American TV show about nothing.” I surprised myself with my first choice of word, though not for long.
Context: An immigrant from India and indoctrination with Seinfeld.
Within the first few months of landing in US for graduate studies, I was casually watching TV show with fellow students from India. The show happened to be Seinfeld. A particular scene stood out. Jerry Seinfeld’s friend Kramer was concerned. He was apprehensive that Jerry was going to start driving a casually known acquaintance to the airport. Jerry emphatically retorts “I’m NOT DRIVING HIM TO THE AIRPORT!”
My friend and I looked at each other with raised brows. Not a word was spoken, we learned something new here: different cultures, different emphasis. Even if you return the favor, asking for ride to airport is reserved for very strong relationships! That piqued my interest! I moved back on the sofa entrenching myself, picked up a décor sofa pillow and placed it on my lap. With my wrists and palms resting on the pillows, I leaned forward.
This show had nuggets of cultural wisdom — exaggerated for effect and yet a great canvas to learn the subtlety of daily life’s simple things.
In time, I fell in love with the show. Little did I know then that this show would help me in more ways in later life.
Great Conversations:Who remembers how they start?
All of us can recall some of our best conversations- definitely the gist of it and even how we felt. If you close your eyes and think back, very few of us can pinpoint on how it started or how we felt when these conversations started.
By trial and error, personally, I found the odds of Seinfeld were better than sports or weather as a hurdle breaker. The combination of a personal like for a cult classic and breaking the awkwardness of the start works wonders for me.
I have watched eyes pop up with excitement majority of the time when I mention, “Do you watch Seinfeld?” It has worked with passengers seated next on American flights or other social situations.
Conversation Starter: Beyond Seinfeld
Rapport building is through things that both conversationist know — common knowledge (see picture below). If we look for the eye of the intersection — things we do because we like it so much that we cannot resist ourselves from being drawn to it — things I call common interest. Seinfeld has high odds in America as a eye popping icebreaker, even now.
It is truly a tribute to something I genuinely believe in –simple everyday observations. These observations are exaggerated enough to get our attention, so that we can chuckle at our (human) own quirky nuances from our everyday life.
Circling back to my reader’s genuine reflection on overcoming hurdles, was my first choice of word the most apt one? It is hard to say what works for one person will work for others. All we can do in life is share our experiences and we naturally want to share what worked for us. What about the not so obvious?
One thing I can say for certain as I relook at the diagram above, the nervousness stems from being in your own circle and its intersection with others. What happens if we do what Jerry Seinfeld,the person, did and still does successfully. He observes the world around him.
His show — “Comedians in cars getting coffee” is ample proof. Just in the title, he has three simple words that the world around him loves — great cars, aromatic coffee and good comedians .
Just like his focus on the world around, instead of the eye in the center of the picture, what happens if we become genuinely interested in the other circle in the picture?
A few questions in that direction, suddenly, it opens a floodgate of conversation and you do not even know how it started.
Takeaway: The Right Tilt
All I want to share with my reader friend are the two circles in the picture. The natural tendency is to focus on the eye in the center — just like my instinctive answer of Seinfeld. Turning the head to the left further compounds the nervousness. Instead I would request him to turn his head to the right — to frame questions to genuinely understand the other person. Then the magic happens — conversations become enriching, healthy, positive and above all satisfying.
The right tilt of the head signifies four words from utopian wonderland — “Be interested than interesting.” The world becomes clearer and conversation ebb and flow with positive energy.
I thank Seinfeld, the show and Jerry Seinfeld,the person, for leading me to this moment.
The secret sauce to the magic of building one conversation at a time — the right tilt.