LtQ: If you could ask a stranger any question, what would it be?

In a recent TED Blog Q&A, Davy Rothbart talked about his travels across North America, trying to discover what people most wanted to know about each other. He gathered the questions into a guidebook for people who want to get to know those around them: “How Did You End Up Here?: The Surprising Ways Our Questions Connect Us“.

Being British, and tending towards introversion and shyness, I would immediately want to insert a “could” into that book title – “The Surprising Ways Our Questions Could Connect Us” – if only I/we had the courage to extend ourselves and try and make that connection, and the other were able to respond in kind.

In “Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour“, Kate Fox writes about the rules of weather-speak. This is how in reality the English break the ice, start conversations and fill in longeurs. We must state a fact – “turned out nice” or “bit chilly today” – as an implicit question (n’est-ce pas? innit?) requiring a response. And that response must be agreement; disagreement is a serious breach of etiquette. I confess to enjoying the occasional bit of subversion – “actually it’s pretty cold/mild for April”. But Fox’s point is that the English talk about the weather because we find the exchange of personal information too uncomfortable.

I wonder whether it would be possible to overcome those inhibitions at TEDxExeter? We could prepare ourselves, have a question ready to ask and be open to the questions others ask in return. Here’s mine, and I hope I can remember it in two days’ time. If I could ask a stranger any question, I would ask: “What brings you joy?

Update: Here are a couple of questions posted on Twitter that made me laugh…

  • I will ask:what do u know about entropy and Boltzmann Paradox?
  • Avocado – a force for good, or the devil’s work?

Update2: I also blogged a few questions for TEDxExeter 2013 that were really pointers elsewhere. Here are some links, for the sake of completeness: