Friday, March 19, 2010

Dull or Interesting - A Lifestyle Choice

Recently I was reading a post by Butterfly Squash concerning the search for a future wife. In the post she lists the top ten things to avoid. The seventh thing on the list was one that especially got me thinking.

7. Dull. She doesn’t bother to cultivate her intellect, has no interesting hobbies, and is incurious. She is a poor partner in conversation. She seems nice enough, but you find her boring. If you think she’s boring now, wait until you’ve shared a home with her for 15 years.
This got me thinking about different people I know and what makes each of them dull or interesting. While it might seem that being interesting is primarily related to one's intelligence, I don't think that intelligence is the primary factor which determines whether a person is dull or interesting. I have friends of all sorts. Some of them are smart, but not very interesting. Some of them are of average intelligence, but really entertaining. Some of them are pretty dumb, and are mind-numbingly banal. Some of them aren't the smartest, but always have fascinating things to say. Some of them are quite intelligent and ever-scintillating in the way they converse. It's quite a broad spectrum. It would seem, then, that intelligence is not strongly correlated with being interesting.

What, then, distinguishes those who are interesting from those who are not? I have noticed that those who are interesting often have fascinating thoughts about life, random little tidbits that they picked up recently, or insights about various aspects of life. Also, those who are interesting are often good communicators. They know how to speak, how to tell stories, and how to engage people with their words. In other words, there are primarily two factors that determine how interesting a person is. To be interesting, one must be a skilled communicator, and must have something of interest to communicate. Both of these are vital. Without the ability to convey information in a interesting manner, even entertaining stories, thoughts or facts, will come across as boring. Alternately, without interesting material to convey, there exists no substance to what one communicates.

Are either of these factors innate traits? No. Having interesting material to share is primarily a matter of having a mind full of fresh thoughts and experiences. The mind is like a river. It is most vibrant and alive when it has both a source and an outlet. When the mind is constantly innundated with new things and has an outlet to share new insights and thoughts, there is an endless supply of interesting things to discuss. Without a source, the mind has only its own resources to depend upon, which eventually become exhausted. Without an outlet, there is little incentive to retain interesting material. The mind that is missing either of these things will surely become stagnant. However, when one has both an outlet and a source, the mind cannot help but be full of fresh thoughts and ideas. It is therefore vital, for any person who wishes to be engaging and interesting, to continually seek sources of inspiration and outlets for creative expression, especially verbally. Having interesting things to share is simply a matter of choosing to have an active mind.

Similarly, being a skilled communicator is not simply something that is innate and hardwired into a person. While some people may have more of a propensity to communicate than others, the skillset is always something that is learned and developed. Learning to phrase things in captivating and memorable ways is something that is learned with practice. Holding people's attention, either in a group or individually, is a matter of knowing what entertains or intrigues people, and learning to deliver entertaining material in a scintillating manner. Excellent communicators are those who study the methods and techniques of other skilled communicators and who are very intentional about how they choose to express themselves. Every sentence is worded and delivered in a carefully-crafted way. Every word is specifically selected. Every pause is there by design. Communicating well is a skill that is developed by those who exercise their minds and teach themselves to be effective and engaging communicators.

As such, interesting people are simply those who choose to pursue being interesting. Dullness is a sign of mental laziness or poor mental priorities (school often dulls ones mental faculties through its rigorous and tedious system of regurgitation). Interestingness is a sign of mental diligence and a passion about knowing interesting things, thinking new thoughts and sharing them with others. In this way, being interesting is a lifestyle choice, rather than something that is innate and unchangable. Just like the pursuit of physical fitness is possible for all people, the sharpening of one's mind and wits is achievable through regular effort. Just as one becomes less physically fit by neglecting exercise, one become dull by neglecting mental exercise. An active mind is a necessary prerequisite of being an interesting person. Having sources that stimulate your thoughts and various outlets to communicate your experiences and ideas are absolutely indispensable.


  1. Having interesting things to share is simply a matter of choosing to have an active mind.

    I'm going to quote that in my article.

    But I think that there is a natural propensity to interestingness (have you coined a new word), because some people just seem to be naturally curious.

    I do think that reading a lot and experiencing a lot has a big impact, though.

  2. Having interesting things to say sometimes comes from having done a lot of thinking over the years. When a topic comes up, you have thought about it a bit and have something to add. It is like having thousands of "set pieces" already in your mind, waiting for the right moment.