“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain
Have you ever wondered why you find some people interesting and are drawn towards them while you find others a bit too “normal” and ordinary? Or wondered why you form and remain in friendships with individuals who are inconveniently placed in a faraway land, while you neglect to initiate a conversation or a friendship with someone you share an office, a classroom, or a city with? I was contemplating this idea this morning, so I attempted to come up with a list of tangible skills interesting people have (if it is in fact a skill we can learn and adapt into our lives) to help us all have interesting and lively lives. I tried to think of all the individuals I’ve had the pleasure and fortune to meet and break bread with, some of whom I now consider friends. I also thought of all the times I avoided coffee dates with fancy PhDs and “professionals” but loved sitting down with seemingly average individuals who share zero of all my modern sensibilities. What is it about some individuals that draws and intrigues us? I’ve managed to come up with a list of four skills including a few ending thoughts.
What interesting people do:
They project a sense of authenticity: When interesting people talk, it is them talking. They’re not there with an agenda (a conscious or an unconscious one). They’re not there trying to show you how woke, smart, successful, rich, virtues, kind and oh-just-fabulous they are. If they are any of these things, you’ll naturally see it without much effort. If they choose to tell you about themselves, they’ll not be telling you about some idealized version of who they imagine themselves to be. They are attuned to who they are, including their flaws, their uncertainties, and humanness and they will choose to share it. This authenticity you’ll find yourself loving, this authenticity you’ll automatically want to emulate.
They know how to listen: These individuals are not egomaniacs that are in love with their own thoughts, ideas and lives. They value what the other person has to say and take their time to listen – actively. They’re aware that whoever they’re talking to may know something that they don’t, so they listen attentively. They also don’t fidget constantly or check their phones incessantly. They comfortably maintain eye contact and let you know they are there – with you.
They hold no assumptions about you: Forming assumptions about other people before we’ve gotten to know them is a natural, almost instinctive, human behavior. This can be very limiting when we’re trying to form relationships. As Thomas Cooley said, “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” If you notice your thinking process often enough, you’ll learn that when you’re talking to other people, part of what you do is act and talk with the goal of confirming an assumption you think they have about you. Interesting people minimize the assumptions they have about you and give you the freedom to be yourself, whoever that self is. Whether someone is rich or poor, “educated” or not, black or white, male or female, a coffee lover or a tasteless dimwit, it matters not to them. They give people a chance to be themselves and not cage them in boxes of stereotypes.
They don’t talk much about trivial things: Interesting people don’t talk for too long about the weather or the inconvenience of their daily commute or the brand of shoes they’re wearing. They may raise such topics to initiate a conversation and make another person comfortable, but you won’t find them analyzing the quality of the leather of your shoes an hour after you meet them. They do small-talk-with-a-purpose, then move on. When I say they don’t talk about trivial things, I don’t mean that what they do talk about are things that are deemed “important” or intellectual in any way. One does not need to be able to discuss big ideas about politics, economics, philosophy, psychology… to be interesting (of course such knowledge definitely helps). What they are is asteway (deep reflectors?) of things they already know about, be it about themselves or the world and are willing and able to openly share it with you.
So there you go, I’ve just solved all your friendship problems. While this is not an exhaustive list, gaining at least three of the four listed skills will at least make this gal be willing to sit down and sip coffee with you.
Given I’m also a practical gal who attempts to recognize reality for what it is, I want to remind you of a few realities. While we can all try to learn these skills and potentially achieve them, there are some things that may not be teachable. Some individuals are born with a kind of confidence in themselves that you can’t help but be captivated by every word they utter, and so much charm that all you want to do is please them. Some have a kind of smile that you can’t help but stare at and the kind of eyes that seems to see deep, right, through you. Some manage to have a sense of humor that make you laugh and giggle like a 12-year-old girl and a warmth that makes you feel at home. These things you can not learn… Some, you may even feel, you’ve known in another dimension of existence, in a far away world where your souls knew and cared for each other… These are the types of people we all love, the types we all want to be, the types that make us feel less alone, more alive. The types that if your good fortune brings to your path, you’d be well advised not to let go.