Why do we ask "What do you do?"?

Jan 15, 10:55 AM

I have determined that as humans, we are creatures of time. It is our own invention, sure, but that doesn’t seem to diminish how it influences and even rules over our lives. So when we meet someone new at a party, in class, or even at a bar, one of the first questions we ask (and get asked) is “So what do you do?” Time is a fundamental factor in how we relate to people – even in how we relate to ourselves. For better or worse our occupation makes us who we are, to a large extent, so the question is, if we don’t ask “What do you do?” then what is there to talk about? When you don’t know someone you can’t really ask them what their life’s purpose is. You can talk about hobbies, but at some point in the conversation the talk turns to logistics, and the major determinant of the logistics of our lives is our work schedule, because everything else is compromised to work around that. So when we want to know “Where do you want to meet?” or “When are you free?”, the question comes back to “What do you do?”.

Incidentally, there may be some wisdom behind our obsession with and submission to time. There’s a saying that the idle mind is the devil’s abode. I have experienced this first-hand, and although it’s not unequivocal, it is accurate most of the time. Man needs occupation, and that occupation takes up time more than anything else – even more than thought for many people: they can go about their work mechanistically, but the expenditure of time cannot be escaped from.

Life, Society/people

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