"What do you do?"
This is a question that often surfaces soon after being introduced to new people - at parties and other social events. But for years it is a question that I have deliberately refrained from asking. I am of the opinion that knowing what somebody does for a living is not of prime importance.I don't wish to define my fellow human beings by the jobs they do.
It may be unintentional but asking the question, "What do you do?" is surely a way of pigeonholing people. If they reply, "I'm a butcher" or "I'm in insurance" or "I'm a surgeon", the cogs in the questioner's brain will whirl instantly as presumptions are silently logged. Presumptions about income and education. That kind of thing. And the questioner will be subconsciously rank ordering - assessing your position in the vocational pecking order.
If somebody asks me "What do you do?", I am often deliberately obtuse. "Oh I like walking and photography - that kind of thing and I am quite keen on cookery. Do you like cooking yourself?" I have also been known to respond, "Why? What do you want to know that for?" which can induce dropped jaws and awkward silences.
For most of us, work is something we do to make money that pays the bills. We can't all be Pablo Picassos or Saul Bellows and what the vast majority of us end up doing is usually an accident of upbringing and circumstance. It shouldn't define us.
I used to rage inside when I heard people making sweeping generalisations about teachers and usually felt like yelling back, "But that's not me!" I was always more than that person at the front of a classroom, teaching lessons and marking books. This was only what I did for a living. It wasn't me.
In my philosophy, road sweepers are equal to magistrates, captains of industry are equal to the cleaners who vacuum their offices and celebrities are no better than the unknown.
Of course, in the passage of time, information about what somebody does for a living will emerge naturally. It's knowledge you can pursue or not but I will never be the first to ask, "What do you do?"