An Interesting Person

Yesterday I shared something on Facebook, without really tracking down the truth of it – and without really thinking it through. I’m regretting it today.

It’s not an aphorism, really – more like an aphorism couched in an anecdote that may or may not be true (google is getting me nowhere in verifying the source of the story).

[H]e said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: ‘ I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.’

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could ‘Win’ at them.”

No citation found: unsourced blog posts and Facebook memes.

This is attributed to Kurt Vonnegut. And for all I know he said it. But I do know this carries more weight because it is thought to be something he said – he being someone who is a winner in the arts.

Someone culture holds up as interesting.

I sat with this idea for a while yesterday, until I began questioning the phrase: makes you an interesting person. Because how can this not mean that other people will find you interesting? I mean, can one be “interesting” to oneself? And is that something we strive for? Should strive for?

I reject the idea that we should work with the arts so other people will be drawn to us – to our interesting ideas, our interesting trivia. Doesn’t this kind of thinking still give the measure of contentment with our lives over to someone else’s evaluation?

In our culture “winning” really means little more than our hierarchy in terms of the attention we gain from others: a popularity contest. This seems like striving for the same goal from a different angle: if you can’t be “good” be “interesting”?

Being interesting is not the same thing as being interested. Could the purpose of working with the arts be to make you a person who is interested in life? Interested in other people’s experiences, other species’ talents? Couldn’t the purpose of working with the arts be to cultivate a sense of awe – precisely because you don’t “win” at it? And then maybe live a life of compassion and community – via the arts?

I’m not denying that it’s human nature to crave attention. It’s key to our survival from infancy. But – yeah: this middle way thing again.

Still thinking about this. Still wishing I’ll grow up to be Vonnegut.


Edit: Twitter tracked down the origin of the (mis)quote. Thanks to Kamilah Reed for the heads-up on this.

4 Comments

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  1. Hi, just wanted to say I’m glad you posted about this unsourced “quote”. I really dislike all these fake quotes floating around. It almost got me, too, because I kind of like the idea (and like a lot of folks, I like and trust Vonnegut; I even grew up in Indianapolis).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a lovely post! The thoughts about wanting to be interesting vs being interested resonate a lot with me.
    But I do think one can be interesting for oneself hahah. When I was a child/adolescent, I had no one that would find my thoughts amusing, but I certainly enjoyed myself. I was used to be made feel like my presence and my shared thoughts were only ever a burden for everyone around me (in reality it was mostly only my jerk of a father, though), but I did like myself and my ideas. Although I certainly wouldn’t have come up with any of my ideas if it wasn’t because of the fact that I was interested about almost everything.

    (Ughh I hate rewriting my comments, I had to rewrite this because I couldn’t remember my wordpress password)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do identify with your feelings as a kid – holding on to a hope that I’d meet people somewhere sometime who would have the same interests that I did. Also incredibly curious about everything – everything that seemed to make everyone else’s eyes roll 🙂 … Thank you for taking the time to rewrite the comments. I’m grateful to know you were here and “interested” …

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