Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Be Interesting" vs "Being Interested"

Written by Conrade Yap

Main Idea: There is a difference between 'interesting' and 'being interested.'

I remember back in Regent-College where I encounter how people use the word 'interesting.' After each lecture, classroom discussion, or any impromptu chats, the word 'interesting' appears to be a suitable one-size-fits-all answer to any question. In fact, after talks from the esteemed and popular Dr James Packer, to the lesser known adjunct professors with their newly minted PhDs, the word 'interesting' can be fitted in like a standard three-pin plug in any electricity outlet. New students can say it with confidence without becoming embarrassed by any lack of theological jargon. Older students use this word to politely disagree, or to appear brilliant, while carefully preparing one of their brainy counter-points to the propositions concerned. 'Interesting' is a word likened to a T-shirt, clothing that reveals a little bit, and hides the rest.

"What do you think of Dr Packer's position of predestination?" Student A asks.

"Oh, that is highly interesting." Student B replies.

"How is it interesting to you?" Student A persists,

"Oh, the whole talk is interesting." Student B continues.

"Specifics please." Student A.

"It is so interesting that I need to take time to think about it. How about you?" Student B answers.

"Oh. I agree it is interesting." Student A.

Bummer! I find such a conversation a nuisance. The word 'interesting' is becoming overly superficial and dangerously artificial. Like a Chinese Wall defense, individuals fail to break through to fellowship and communicate authentically as long as they play at the level of 'interesting.' May I suggest that believers in Christ, and Church people learn to become less 'interesting,' and more 'interested.'


The difference between 'interesting' and 'interested' is stark. When we are merely 'interesting,' we tend to push our cards of lesser importance first. We sacrifice our pawns of triviality to protect our castle of self. We deposit pennies without the need for any more commitment. When we merely appear to be interesting, we are unwilling to do more beyond the first step. Being interesting is like skim milk, where the fat of relationships are trimmed away. Skim milk tastes bland. It is less than the real thing. Much less. Jim Collins, the author of the business book bestseller, "Built to Last" and "Good to Great" shares of a life-changing moment when a friend of his said to him:
"It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don't you invest more time in being interested." (Jim Collins, Preface to the book Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins, 2005)

May I suggest that we learn to do the same. Spend less time trying to be 'interesting' and more time being interested. 'Interesting' plays easily at the superficial level. It costs us nothing much. It reveals very little of ourselves. When we try to be 'interesting,' we are frequently caught in the bind. We become more of others and less of ourselves. In other words, we sacrifice authenticity for the sake of non-commitment. How can we form authentic Christian Fellowship if we are mere 'interesting?'

On the other hand, when we become interested, we go beyond superficiality. We lower our defenses and we become open to receive others into our lives. Perhaps, we can learn to be more interested in people, and to be less interesting. Here are 5 differences between 'interesting' and 'interested.'

1) 'Interesting' Looks Inward; Being Interested Looks Outward
It is easy to keep our feelings to ourselves. Sometimes, when we need our own space, or not prepared to offer our opinions, we do anything to protect our turf, and 'interesting' becomes a convenient non-committal word. Why not become interested in the person who asks the question? Perhaps, we can speak a word to edify. If we do not have time, simply say so, and move on. Not every question needs to be answered, but every question needs to be handled with grace.

Another problem is when we try to 'be interesting' to other people, we unwittingly betray our true selves, just like a boy infatuated with a girl, and making a fool of himself just to be 'interesting' to the gal. Apply this to Christian Fellowship, it means we are faking it.

2) 'Interesting' is Temporary; 'Interested' is more long term
'Interesting' is easily used, and also easily forgotten because it does not carry much meaning. On the other hand, when a person is interested, he will be prepared to spend time to understand and to make sense of the topic concerned. This investment of time is long term, and will sometimes require a substantial part of our time. Not many of us can pay attention to all things. However, we can make a distinction between short or long term goals, and to exercise our behavior accordingly.

3) 'Interesting' moves toward divesting; 'Interested' moves toward investment;
Sometimes I feel that the word 'interesting' is becoming an overused word for 'uninterested.' If a matter does not concern me, and I do not want to offend another person, I can use the word 'interesting.' Perhaps, when someone asked us about something, we should not be too quick to dismiss the question, but to learn to ask the question behind the question: "Is there something bothering you to ask that question?" When we can ask such a question, we move toward being interested people.

4) 'Interesting' does little toward fostering fellowship; 'Interested' brings people closer
In our time-starved society, and stressful schedules, it is impossible to pay attention to everyone. We need to choose our interactions carefully. Having said that, it is good to be purposeful in our fellowship as well. The trouble is, sometimes, we miss out opportunities to foster closer fellowship, to benefit from learning opportunities by being uncommitted about our views. Remember. We may not have another chance to interact with the same person again in the future.

5) 'Interesting' is artificial; 'Interested' is more authentic.
When someone talks about something being 'interesting' we do not really know what he means. Is it positively or negatively interesting? Is it helpful or unhelpful? Sometimes I feel that silence is golden in such a situation. Maybe, the words "I don't know," is more useful than the word 'interesting.' I don't know. Perhaps, when we learn to be interested with people, we can naturally become more authentic.

I am always fascinated by Jesus's question to Simon Peter about who he thinks Jesus is. Almost immediately, Peter talks about the opinions of others. Jesus remains focused on the question, to ask Peter again, 'What about you? Who do you say I am?"

Peter replied finally, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

Jesus calls Peter 'blessed.'

Imagine for one moment, Peter turns around and says to Jesus, "What you teach is 'interesting.'" Wouldn't that be such a silly moment?  The next time someone asks us about our opinion, why not simply tell them the truth. If we like it, say we like it. If we disagree, say we disagree. Let our yes be yes, and our no, no. Do not hide behind the cloak of 'interesting' in order to justify any evasiveness. When we see Christ, let us not say to him, "You are interesting to me," or "Let me try to be as interesting as possible to You."

Let us say confidently, "You are already interested in me. I need not tend toward interesting acts. Make me more interested in You, and You alone." While we may not afford to be invested in each and every person, we owe it to everyone to be honest, and do good especially to those of the same household of faith. As far as it be possible, be interested in lives, for they may never come your way again.


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