There's a fine line between curious and nosy.
I was recently taking my two-mile neighborhood walk when a young man approached me from the opposite direction, nearing the end of his own walk. He had passed me earlier, and this time I said, "You're a faster walker than me." We exchanged a few inconsequential remarks and then he said, "May I walk with you for a bit?" I thought it was a little unusual, since it would mean retracing his steps, but I said sure.
We walked half a mile together. I asked him about his job and he said he works with preverbal autistic kids. I was curious. I asked at what point a preverbal kid becomes a nonverbal one. He said that was an interesting question, and we talked then about how kids can learn a new language quite easily until they are about twelve. He said that's about when the preverbal/nonverbal distinction is made. We wondered if there is some kind of neural significance to that, or whether it's just a coincidence.
It wasn't a typical walking chat, but it was unusually interesting. We covered several other topics. Our mutual curiosity kept the conversation going. I asked him what his ideal job would be. He said, "Training service animals. When an autistic person goes from one room to another, it can look like a whole new world. A service animal is a familiar comfort." I found out he had moved here a couple of years ago from a southern state. I'm pretty sure it wasn't for the job, but he didn't say, and I didn't ask. I did ask if there was someone special in his life, and he said, "Not right now." Again, he didn't say anything more, and I didn't ask.
My experience has been that if I ask an open-ended question, the other person will say what they want to say. It may be quite a long story. Or it may be only a few words. I honor their choice.
When we got to my street, we stood at the intersection for a few minutes to finish up our chat. We introduced ourselves and I gave him a hug. "Good bye, Jay. Thanks for the walk." He said, "Thank you, Linda."
I haven't seen him since.
I've had a few other conversations recently where a person responded in some length to an open-ended question of mine. And, a couple of times, someone needed to talk and I happened to be there to listen. In those cases, I don't ask questions. I just listen. I'm still curious, but I know they're only telling me what they need to say. Sometimes I never hear the rest of the story, or any outcome. And that's okay.
Like I said, there's a fine line between curious and nosy.
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