As a teenager, I was terribly shy and had a hard time conversing with people. That began to change after a conversion experience. As God healed me, I started to reach out to others. Over the years, I have found that those who show a genuine interest in others are a minority, and perhaps, even rare.
Have you ever had the experience of someone talking at you instead of with you? Or, while you’re sharing your story or ideas, the other person hears something that grabs their attention, and they launch into a monologue? Maybe we should be glad our friend found something we said to be engaging, but we might wonder if they really cared about us or what we had to say. My usual response is not to pick up where I left off, but to probe further into their thoughts or experience. Then I wait to see if my friend will return to my side of the conversation. They almost never do.
Showing interest isn’t hard if you’re actually interested. Your body language will communicate regard for the person. You’ll ask good questions. Listening will come naturally as you want to hear what your friend has to say. Feigning interest, on the other hand, takes work and becomes a real drag.
Why should we care?
People need someone to listen to them, and they intensely care that we care about them and what they have to say. This touches on several of the topics I’ve written about in the past weeks: honoring others, needing to be known, and the desire to be loved.
It seems to me that demonstrating a genuine interest in others comes in one three levels.
The first expresses politeness and good manners. One recognizes that they need to listen to others if they want to be heard. This response is a natural extension of healthy social development.
The second is less common. These folks are often motivated by pure curiosity. By calling curiosity pure, I’m excluding the heightened attraction many have for gossip, salacious topics, and other sensational material. Instead, those at the second level have come to live curiously. They are eager to learn, explore, and ask questions, while they’re seemingly unconcerned about having to vocalize their own opinions.
Caring for others also leads to second-level interest. A person in love has an insatiable appetite for everything their beloved says. But do they extend the same caring to someone who is only an acquaintance or a stranger? Not nearly as often.
The third level goes beyond natural tendencies and draws from supernatural inspiration. More than expressing a self-reinforcing curiosity, these people have a desire to discover that is motivated by love. They want to know the other person and seek the divine image within them. Even in the presence of opinionated boors and bigots, the desire to discover leads them not to seek out the other’s prejudices and negativism, but to understand how this person came to this point. The knee-jerk reaction for most of us would be either to tell the person off or to walk away. For these selfless seekers, love often moves them to set aside their initial disgust so they can find a way to help the person realize their potential.
Raising our interest-level demands more from us and calls upon us to cultivate godly virtues.
In humility, we recognize how much we don’t know, and we value what we can learn from others.
Selflessness motivates us to put aside our agenda and take up the other’s cause.
Honor and respect keep us from interrupting and monopolizing. When the other person states the obvious, we give grace instead of sarcasm.
Self-control curtails our impulse to speak prematurely or carelessly.
Patience moves us to wait as we allow our friend to tell their story.
Generosity gives the floor to others when it would be our right to hold it.
Are you really interested?
What can we do? First, we can develop a healthy curiosity toward life. Ask questions. Seek answers. Don’t be satisfied with the obvious or superficial. Allow ourselves to be filled with wonder. The curious are not passive recipients of media. They slow down enough to pay attention.
Second, we must begin to care about others. True caring requires a decision. It takes effort and commitment. The next time we’re in a conversation, let’s consider the best way we might care for our friend through our words and actions.
Third, we should foster the virtues of humility, selflessness, honor, self-control, patience, and generosity when we’re with others.
Finally, let us ask our Heavenly Father for the grace and wisdom to love others authentically through discovery and genuine interest.