Sociability • Social Virtues
How to Become a More Interesting Person
We start with an unusual observation: there is a huge variance in how much we feel we have to say for ourselves around some people compared to around others; certain people make us feel boring, others do not.
We tend to evaluate people on how interesting they are. But we are thereby liable to miss a more acute and relevant issue: how interesting does a given person make us feel? Why in the company of some do our minds quickly fill with stories, while around others, we experience ourselves as blank, dull and close to inert. Why – when some people ask – ‘so what have you been up to lately?’ do we positively brim with a multitude of topics, whereas with others, outwardly equally polite, do we struggle to remember that we have ever even existed?
To explain the phenomenon, we have to credit our unconscious minds with a faculty we might never have known we possessed. Throughout our interactions with people, we are continually picking up on small clues as to how much our interlocutor is understanding and appreciating of what we are saying. When we mention a given issue, how much do their eyes light up? How much can they follow? How much of our reality can this person accept; how much shocks them; how much can they take in their stride; how much of what is knotted and complex in us can they safely receive; how much of our reality would we need to hide from them to spare them – and therefore us – an alarmed or censorious response?
From the answers to these multiple data points, we come – without typically even realising we have done so – to a broad and active conclusion: how much of me this person is likely to get. And, rather simply, the more the answer is a lot, the more we will have to say. And the more the answer is ‘not so much’, the more a cautionary instinct will form inside us telling us to remain quiet.
This simultaneously helps to explain how someone gets to be a companion around whom people feel they have a lot to say: they do this by opening many rooms in their own minds, by saying a lot to themselves.
Of course this is far from simple: many rooms of our minds contain very frightening things indeed: areas of properly daunting loss, pain, horror and chaos which we can be forgiven for never wanting to go anywhere near. Yet a person will feel interesting precisely to the extent that they have become a brave and relaxed wanderer inside their own minds, that they have become familiar and one could almost say at ease with things that are sad, dark, agonising and potentially shameful. When they’re at home with their own anxiety, grief, strangeness and silliness so, by a beautiful principle of reciprocity, they will be at home with ours as well. Where they have gone, we can follow. Because they have talked to themselves, we will be able and keen to talk to them. What they have felt safe exploring in themselves, we will be able to safely unpack around them.
This gives us guidance as to how to become a more interesting person for others: by becoming the best possible travellers inside ourselves. We need to open as many doors to our psyches as we can, for this will, simultaneously, surreptitiously, let out a signal to others that we will be a safe recipient of all their smaller, more private, less-often mentioned observations and feelings. Others will have much to say to us once we have had the courage to say a lot to ourselves.