John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I recently went to a sit-down dinner party for 10 people at a friend’s house. My boyfriend and I knew the host and hostess but not any of the other guests. During the meal, we only talked to the person on our left or our right, so we never got a good sense of who everyone was. If I host a party full of people who don’t know one another, what can I do to make it special and inclusive? My simple approach will enliven any dinner party and have everyone participating. Right after the main course plates are removed, tap a spoon against your wine glass to get everyone’s attention. Then say, “We’ll never get a chance to really know one another tonight, which is too bad. So how about we go around the table and each of us answers, ‘What was your first real job out of college?’ or everyone talks about the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to them.”
You can learn more about your dinner companions through these true confessions than any cocktail or table neighbor conversations. The stories are universally interesting, sad, funny and inspiring. These revealing character studies will leave everyone with a sense that, “I’d really like to see that person again.” Or in some cases, “I never want to lay eyes on him. Ever.” But at least the vapid sharing of, “How many kids do you have?” or, “How unbelievable is Trump?” will not be an issue. You learn about people from the stories of their past. And these stories will give you all memorable evenings. Give it a whirl, or create provocative discussions of your own.
I am a young woman who is interested in fashion and style. I buy a lot of clothes from fast fashion stores because their prices can’t be beat. I recently had dinner with a group of friends who informed me that I was supporting unfair labor and pay for women and men in third-world countries. I had no idea. I suppose if I pay $6 for a shirt, then the person at the beginning of the supply chain is probably not getting a decent wage. Is it OK to shop at these stores or am I exploiting poor workers in foreign countries? We live in a country with a population of more than 320 million, and there’s more than 7 billion people on the planet. In America, there is nothing we do that doesn’t offend someone. We live in a global village, if your friends haven’t noticed. And that genie is never going to be put back in the bottle. I was a busboy in a restaurant years ago and after watching what went on in the kitchen there, I swore I’d never eat out. If people knew the real story about how and where things are produced, they’d just curl up in a fetal position. You cannot dictate human nature or behavior. Personally, I wish that everything that I wear and eat were made in Ipswich. But it’s probably unrealistic of me. Vote with your heart and conscience, but buy the fashions you prefer—and wear them proudly.
These days, everyone is glued to their phones. Leaving the house without one is like forgetting part of your soul. People know how to text, but they increasingly don’t know how to talk face-to-face. The art of conversation seems to have gotten lost somewhere in the early part of the century. Do you think humans will ever learn how to talk to one another again? Will glancing at our phones when people approach us become the new norm? Well, everything changes in life, whether we want it to or not. Revolutions come and go as civilization creates disruptive discoveries: electricity, telephones, cars, planes, radio and television. Now it’s the internet, which has changed almost every life. I didn’t have a cellphone a decade ago. Now, I admit, I’m addicted to my smart device. An iPhone 8 sleeps next to me on a pillow, my new wife. But you must know, that in spite of all the innovation around us, human nature never changes. And the number one rule to live by is still, “All of life is relationships.” Friendship, love and face-to-face communication are what ultimately get us through the night. ◆