Juan Vasquez asked new acquaintances, friends, and family members one simple question—“how do you live?”—as a way to gain perspective and to share it with others.
Before I ask a new or old friend the question “how do you live?” I set them up much like a point guard sets up his or her clutch three-point sharp shooter. “I am about to ask you a simple question, and I’d like you to note down your answer on whatever you’d like, with whatever you’d like, and you can choose to answer it however you’d like,” I’ve said to more than 50 people.
After the words HOW DO YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE roll off my tongue I usually get a surprised look followed by “I’ve never thought about this before.” At that point we’ll likely discuss the various shapes an answer can take: from a mantra, to a life lesson, philosophy, or bottom line. In reality, I’ve learned, there are endless ways to approach it.
There is one particular story that validates my desire to share this little project with the world.
One sunny Sunday afternoon I was enjoying some top-notch grub at a BBQ joint in Woodbine, Georgia. I suddenly found myself talking with one of the locals. He was a very nice gentleman with a thick Southern accent, calloused hands from working in construction, and a few poorly inked tattoos. My new friend had the tattoos done during his time in prison. “I’m a felon,” he told me. “I’m not,” I responded with a smile.
After we exchanged a few more words I knew it was time for the set up. “I’m about to ask you a personal question, I hope you’re fine answering it,” I told him. His response caught me off guard.
“You’re not going to try any homo shit, are you? Cus’ I’ll cut you,” he said in a tone that made me question how much of it was joke versus fact. “You don’t need to cut me, I just want to know—how do you live your life?” was my response.
Surprisingly, he didn’t question why I was asking. He simply looked away, looked back at me, and said one single word, which threw me into my own whirlwind of thoughts. “God.”
With my mind partially blown and perhaps one or two more beers than I should’ve had, I thanked the man for his time, wished him luck, shook one of his calloused hands, and walked away.
From that single exchange I learned how useless it is to judge others based on: appearance, personality, past experiences, residence, and more. Every single person has something to teach others, and more importantly, every single person sees life through a different lens.
In a way, we are all untapped wells of wisdom for each other. It just takes the effort from one party to start digging.
Thanks to that conversation and many others, I’ve jumped on a journey to learn how people of all backgrounds and lifestyles live.
After the initial wave of “what the ….”, some folks tap into their response quickly and without hesitation. Others seem to bounce around until they boil down how they in fact live and make decisions.
Once pencil, pen, or marker hits a torn magazine page, bar napkin, or whatever canvass the respondent chooses, I snap a picture of it for my blog—http://thejuanvasquez.tumblr.com—and place the entire response in my pocket. The goal is for all responses to be printed into one book a few years from now.
After I get an answer, the questions are then usually pointed at me. “Why do you do this?” and “how do YOU live your life?” are the usual suspects. Both answers are simple.
I stumbled into this little project randomly and quickly learned just how much I was in fact learning. We all see and live life differently, which reinforces my own belief that one of our main responsibilities in life is to respect others’ approach to it.
My response to the latter question is even simpler—opportunity cost.
Before closing off I’d like to share one of my biggest regrets in my short 25 years on this planet, and it involves technology. At one point I switched from pen and paper responses to me typing down answers into my phone’s notepad app. Big mistake. This switch took away the integrity of “How The World Lives.” It also means that I lost many beautiful responses when my phone broke.
One more lesson learned. Sometimes nothing beats pencil skating across paper.
Without further delay, I encourage you all to dive into your fellow human beings’ brains and souls by checking out How The World Lives. Explore how others live their lives and ask yourself how you live yours. If you’d like: write/draw/doodle/bake/spray paint/build your response on whatever canvass you’d like and email me a picture to [email protected].