Monday, August 8, 2016

How to be the most interesting person you can be

Years ago I heard an interview with a young actor who had been in a movie with Harry Connick Jr. He was surprised by how nice, engaging, and kind to others Harry was. He was also mesmerized by how interesting of a person Mr. Connick was to be around. So he sought him out and asked him, "How do I become a more interesting person?" Harry said, "It's simple. When you meet someone new, ask them 5 questions before you ever say anything about yourself." Amazing advice, but hard to believe it came from a movie star, all of which I often (wrongly) assume are completely self absorbed. I love this story because it shatters that assumption.

So did this quote from the book How Proust Can Change Your Life.
(p.120)- it is often assumed, usually by people who don't have many friends, that friendship is a hollow sphere in which what we wish to talk about effortlessly coincides with others' interests. Proust, less optimistic than this, recognized the likelihood of discrepancy, and concluded that he should always be the one to ask questions and address himself to what was on your mind rather than risking boring you with what was on his.
To do anything else would have been bad conversation and manners: [quotes from Proust] "There is a lack of tact in people who in their conversation look not to please others, but to elucidate, egotistically, points that they are interested in." Conversation required an application of oneself in the name of pleasing companions. "When we chat, it is no longer we who speak... we are fashioning ourselves then in the likeness of other people, and not of a self that differs from them."
Though the quotes are from and about Proust, it also sounds like something Jesus would say and do.

This quote brought a friend and his wife to mind, both of whom I know try to practice this Proustian approach to conversation whenever there are at a gathering. I emailed him the quote as a point of encouragement - a sign of solidarity amongst us high-minded-others-centered-conversationalists. His response was not expected, but unsurprising. 
Good stuff.  Thanks for thinking of us.
Hard to practice this "other's interests" because we are all so self centered. Recently during the Christmas break  my wife and I were commenting on how worn out we were by everyone's self talk. She came home one evening from a dinner with a girls group and walked through the door and fell into my arms in tears. When she finally collected herself she said that she feels like she is known by nobody. She went on to say that her closest girlfriends do nothing but self talk and there was no need to ask probing questions about them because its all about them. At a time when her mom is fighting cancer she wanted just one woman to ask about her but it never happened.  
We are committed to keep asking probing questions so as to not risk boring people with our agenda. I think it all starts with a denial of self and a genuine concern for others.  But in a world of self talk this becomes more challenging indeed.
Hard paragraphs to read. Mostly because of the painful reminder of the many times I've played the role of the self absorbed friend that only talks about themselves. 

Proust had an agenda in asking questions - to learn more that would help shape characters in his books. Harry might have had an agenda to merely appear interesting to others (I've been guilty of that as well). But a Christ centered agenda seeks to be others centered for Christ's sake. And when you are others centered in your conversation, it opens a door for pointing others to Him.

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