The boys were home this past weekend and so we lingered a while around the table, talking about their first couple weeks in classes and all the myriad of adjustments to be made when you begin a new season of life. One thing that can be hard is all the new people that begin to populate your life. But that part can also be overwhelming. I confessed to them how hard that can be even at my stage of life, even though I’m an extrovert and love meeting people. We were at a social gathering recently and I wasn’t feeling that well and wasn’t really in the curious and generous mood. I wanted to enjoy my expensive dinner and read the book I had stowed away in my purse and pretend I was eating alone. I have enough friends, I told myself. And this woman is 20 years my senior and she’s not talkative, so this is going to be a monumental effort to make genuine conversation.
But then I remembered what I always tell my kids. Teach yourself to be interested in people, to want to hear their stories. And if you’re not interested, confess that as a flaw in yourself and pretend to be interested until your stubborn mind catches up.
I think we’re not that curious about other people because we have to stop thinking and talking about ourselves long enough to let them talk. It takes humility—which Lewis says is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. And we are nothing if not hopelessly self-centered, so this humility and curiosity doesn’t come natural to any of us, least of all, me.
So, despite my own selfish thoughts, I started asking her questions. Twenty minutes later I was sure she was one of the most fascinating women I had ever met. I’m so glad I didn’t miss that opportunity, but it makes me wonder how many people I’ve let slip through my fingers because I was too self-absorbed to care.
I told the boys and I keep reminding myself to stay curious—to cultivate the discipline of being interested in people. Even if you’re not. Even if you already have enough friends. Even when it’s inconvenient. Soon it will become more like habit and years later, you’ll find that what you’ve cultivated is a generous heart.
I’d be so curious to know when the last time you felt like someone did this for you? Isn’t it wonderful when someone takes an interest in your life and wants to hear your story?