What did Aristotle do in his spare time?

20160913_162225I don’t know the answer, but the question came to me as I was looking through Imotions’ “Top 50 Human Behavior Experts to Follow in 2017”. Judging only from their online profiles, they seem like interesting and very bright people and I definitely want to learn more about their observations of human behaviour. But what I found equally interesting is what each of them chose to list as “Interesting Facts” about themselves – and it wasn’t so much that the facts were interesting; it was what each person thought would be interesting to someone reading their profile. I’m not a human behaviour expert, but I think I could tell who was being cheeky, who was being serious, and who felt completely awkward filling out that section.

I’ve often thought about what makes a person interesting. Who are they when they’re at home? What do they think about when they’re vacuuming or in line for groceries? Do they ever just sit around being boring? (This is how I got to the Aristotle question; under “Interesting Facts” on his profile, I imagined him submitting something like: Constructs landscapes out of seashell fragments in his spare time; also, asks a lot of questions.)

I don’t think they do (sit around being boring). I think the key to being interesting is being interested: noticing things; questioning; not taking the world around us exactly as it seems. The more we wonder and study and reflect, the more interesting it all becomes. And there is plenty to be interested in these days. Some people classify the time we’re living in as a kind of second renaissance because of the sheer volume of developments in technology, art, science and communication, and the speed at which they’re occurring.

Of course, it can get overwhelming. I’m sure that during the first Renaissance, as in other period of massive change, there were just as many people who were confused by what was happening as there were people making it happen. Think of the crowd in Monty Python’s parody of the sermon on the mount in The Life of Brian, particularly the group at the back who can’t figure out why the cheesemakers are so special. We’re surrounded by opinions, prophecies, doomsday forecasts and pie-in-the-sky optimism and we try to deal with it during whatever time is left over at the end of over-scheduled days. But being overwhelmed and confused doesn’t excuse us from being interested.

David Foster Wallace talked about paying attention to the water that’s all around us – the stuff we swim in, swallow and breathe. It’s the same for everyone. What you see in it, is the question.

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think… if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars – compassion, love, the subsurface unity of all things.

What I’m driving at is that we can’t always be interesting, but we can always be interested. Why bother? Because interested people get things done. The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. (James Baldwin – look him up; he’s very interesting.)


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Wanting to capture the world, one piece at a time.

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