People generally like it when others take an interest, express it and listen. Most people enjoy the opportunity to talk about what matters to them.
I had the good fortune of visiting a good friend recently. We’ve been friends for a long time and it’s been far too long since I’ve last seen him.
In addition to connecting with my friend, I shared some fellowship with his wife and their 10-year old daughter, Ellie. The four of us visited a farmers market, had dinner with ice cream for dessert and enjoyed a homemade breakfast. And beyond all that good, Ellie treated us to a performance of her exceptional Irish dancing.
After the dining room furniture was moved out of the way to reveal the stage, she performed several jigs and reels, in both ghillies (soft) and heavy (hard) shoes. She even wore her solo dress. I learned that a dancer earns the right to wear a solo dress by winning a cup at a feis (pronounced “fesh”), an organized dance competition. Ellie earned her solo dress honors at the Feile Chualann Bray Feis in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland.
Bella, their 15-year old Karelian Bear Dog performed in a cameo capacity by fortuitously ambling across the stage a time or two (no ghillies, heavy shoes or solo dress for Bella).
As part of her performance, Ellie also shared her knowledge of Irish dance, and thoughtfully answered my many questions about dancing.
After her show was over and before she retired for the evening, Ellie said good night to everyone and then said to me, “Thank you for being interested.”
A bit surprised, I replied, “Well, you’re welcome” and told her she made it easy to be interested.
It was clear that my interest in her and what mattered to her, and my expression of it through my questions and listening, made an impression on her. And, she really made an impression on me by expressing her appreciation for me being interested.
As I thought about it over the next week or so, I realized how meaningful it is to simply take interest in another person and demonstrate it.
When someone knows another is interested and is listening, they are likely to reciprocate. We have a wonderful opportunity to develop and strengthen our connections with one another by simply taking an interest in each other and acting on it through questions and sharing and listening.
Sometimes it’s easy to be interested in other people – after all, we find them interesting! Perhaps we know we have things in common or we think the same way or have the same beliefs. Or, maybe for whatever reason, right off the bat we think they’re cool or hip. That’s fun.
Too often it’s also too easy to not be interested in some people. Perhaps we know (or think we know) that we don’t have things in common, or that we disagree or have different beliefs. For whatever reason, they just don’t seem worth our interest. Based on our beliefs and perceptions, we keep them at arm’s length. We’re not interested.
What are the costs of that choice to not be interested? What do we miss out on?
We miss an opportunity to learn about another person – their ideas, beliefs, hopes and dreams. We miss an opportunity to broaden our own perspectives and reflect on our own ideas, beliefs, hopes and dreams. We miss an opportunity to better understand one another, and in doing so we miss an opportunity to bridge gaps, perhaps resolve differences and treat one another better.
So what do we gain by choosing to be interested in others?
We gain an opportunity to understand one another and have empathy. We gain an opportunity to reflect on and broaden our perspectives. We gain an opportunity to enjoy the richness that our diverse world offers. We demonstrate respect for one another. We perhaps inspire others to do the same. And, we gain an opportunity to be inspired by others. We also often gain the joy of a fun conversation, a few laughs and the positive feelings that come with sharing a connection with another person.
I wonder how many fascinating people have come and gone in my life that I failed to choose to be interested in. What a loss for me.
Am I interested in the people in my life and those I cross paths with? If so, do they know that?
If I’m not interested, why not, what’s holding me back?
Am I interested only or mostly in people who are obviously interesting to me, or do I make it a point to look for something interesting in everyone?
Who’s in my life that I can be interested in and haven’t been? Will I be? How will I demonstrate that interest?
Thank you, Ellie, for helping me reflect on how important it is to be interested in others. I believe what you helped me learn will pay off for me for the rest of my life. And, thanks for putting on a great show and for being so interesting!
A note – Bella, their beloved companion, has since passed away. For 15 ½ years she gave and took love with her humans freely and fairly. She enjoyed a full, rich, warm and safe life, and she enriched those who knew her through her companionship and devotion.
© 2018 Rob Otte
Rob Otte is a teacher, speaker, writer and coach and also my great friend. You can contact Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thought for the week:
Be more concerned about being interested than being interesting- Chris French