Letter to my son: Be interested in people

Let me be very clear: being interested in people is vastly different that liking all of them. At any given moment, I dislike more people than I like. But they fascinate me.

Many years ago, I was grieving some significant setbacks relating to our attempts to have children. Out of that grief came the first many entries in what was a long letter to my future son. I have my son now. And I look forward to raising him to answer these fundamental questions and follow these foundational rules. Each individual part can be found here.  

Continued from here

I want to add one final thought about principled living which is a life-lesson all its own. Be interested in people. It will sharpen your ability to define good principles and give you credibility as you strive to live them out.

Let me be very clear: being interested in people is vastly different that liking all of them. At any given moment, I dislike more people than I like. But they fascinate me. Because they fascinate me, I find I’m actually pretty good at reading them, understanding them, interpreting them and, my favorite, predicting them.

It’s a challenge. It’s a puzzle. It’s a mystery. But it’s not a game. I allow my people fascination to make me better. I’m better at meeting needs because of it. I’m better at solving problems because of it. I’m better at offering advice because of it. If I have any importance to anyone, I hope it’s at least partly rooted in the fact that I took the time to figure them out.

But it’s more than that. It’s also a demonstration of affection. I endeavor to memorize those people that I love. It’s my act of service to them. It’s my attempt to say, “You are this valuable to me.” Now, how you give and receive love is something God has already built into you; I’m not trying to force you to express love in my voice. Regardless of whether knowledge is synonymous with love for you, it’s still a powerful tool.

Study people – memorize them. Learn to read each person’s unique non-verbal cues. Learn their “tells”. Figure out their different smiles, the different tones of their laugh, the pitches and volumes of their voice and associate those with moods and circumstances and things they’ve told you. Know their history. Know why this thing triggers a strong reaction whereas that thing is indifferent. Master their sense of humor; laughter is the door to many hearts. But also know their sensitivities – and figure out which ones you can tease them about and which ones require compassion. Watch their sense of style; learn their entertainment preferences and their favorite foods. Actually, learn all of their favorites. Hear what they say – all of it. The remarks they deem important and the throwaway lines. Hear beneath the words, hear what they’re really saying when they’re talking.

People want to be known, so if you’re listening you’ll hear them telling you about themselves.

I cannot overstate the benefit this will have on your life. You will benefit in professionally, academically, and socially; anywhere you encounter people, you will be well served to find them fascinating.

The most significant area of benefit will be those few closest relationships – the ones that matter more than the others. One of the greatest thrills of my life is when I say something to your mother and she smiles at me and asks, shocked, “How did you know that?” Those are the happiest moments of my life. It goes beyond the sappy moments though. I’m a better leader in the home. I know which fights to fight and which moments call for space. I can comfort the fear beneath the anxiety or address the hurt beneath the outrage because I’ve memorized her.

You can’t love something you don’t know, and you won’t know things when you don’t care enough to learn. Discipline yourself to find people fascinating. Don’t be dumb about it. You can’t – and shouldn’t – know everyone equally well. So, don’t lose balance or get obsessed with memorizing every detail about everyone. But don’t be so interested in yourself that you only see other people as they reflect you.

There’s a need to know yourself, we’ll get to that. But you’re not the be all and end all. Make sure you don’t treat people like they’re just there to know you. Know them. Know them for their sake. That’s the only way to truly know them.