How to Feign Interest

Russell Davies’ planning blog is a great read. I’ve been reading it for about a year now. I say this because I intend to make screed against something he wrote recently, and I thought I would show some respect before I wax polemical.

The post in question is titled, “how to be interesting.” Such a title (ignoring Mr. Davies’ demonstrated brilliance for the moment) immediately sets off alarms for me. I’d imagine some who are reading this already have a notion of where I’m going with this. The post starts with two assumptions:

The way to be interesting is to be interested. You’ve got to find what’s interesting in everything, you’ve got to be good at noticing things, you’ve got to be good at listening. If you find people (and things) interesting, they’ll find you interesting.

Interesting people are good at sharing. You can’t be interested in someone who won’t tell you anything. Being good at sharing is not the same as talking and talking and talking. It means you share your ideas, you let people play with them and you’re good at talking about them without having to talk about yourself.

Fine. Spot on. Then he goes on to describe a list of ten things you can do to ostensibly become more interesting. It’s a fine list of things like, “Every week, read a magazine you’ve never read before.” I’d recreate the list here, but Y’all can just go read his post. He prefaces the list with:

“It’s sort of didactic, bossy even, but it’s supposed to be instructional, rules you can follow. If you do them, and send me evidence that you’ve done them for three months, then I’ll send you a marvelous ‘I’m More Interesting Than I Was Three Months Ago’ certificate.”

…but even with that preface, I can’t help but respond to the whole business by saying simply: bollocks.

I submit that the ghost in Mr. Davies’ “be interesting” machine is the serendipitous “why?” That interesting people may exhibit some of this behavior by no means suggests that the behaviors are what imparts interestingness. My one-time music theory professor and just generally all-around smart guy, Steve Heinemann, once said to me, “music theory is a description of music, not a prescription for music.” It would seem that the same applies to Mr. Davies’ supposed recipe for interestingness. The missing sine qua non in his analysis is a non-programmable inspiration.

For example, I am interested in Japanese culture. I may engage in any number of the behaviors Mr. Davies encourages, but they are not why I am interested in Japanese culture. They are merely the outward result of my interest. The reasons I am interested to include the fact that I visited Japan as a child and the accidental fact that there is an unspeakably beautiful Japanese garden in my hometown which only exists because of the fortuitous presence of a sizable Japanese community here. Yet even these facts are not sufficient to justify my interest. And if I weren’t interested in Japanese culture, no amount of blogging and scrapbooking about it would necessarily create such an interest.

Not to be contrarian, but I’d be willing to bet that none who receive Russell’s marvelous ‘I’m More Interesting Than I Was Three Months Ago’ certificate will actually be any more interesting than they were before they undertook this exercise. More known perhaps, but not more interesting. And if by chance, some do prove to be more interesting, I suspect it will be epiphenomenal to those ten habits of highly interesting people.

Though it would certainly be interesting if Mr. Davies’ were to undertake to cut my argument to ribbons. To me anyway.