Ever since reading What The Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell’s collection of essays, I’ve had a particular statement of his at the constant forefront of my thoughts. In his introduction, Gladwell talks about minor geniuses and why, when he’s writing an essay, he goes to the people in the middle, the people who do the actual work, instead of the people at the top. He explains that the people at the top are reticent to share information freely and are very careful about what they divulge because they have a lot more to lose, which leads Gladwell to conclude that “self-consciousness is the enemy of interestingness.”
SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS IS THE ENEMY OF INTERESTINGNESS. Does this statement resonate with anyone else as much as it does with me?
I’ve been ruminating for months on how this equation works, the equation being INTERESTINGNESS ≠ SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS. I totally get why Gladwell would draw this conclusion; I myself am very self-conscious when I talk to people I don’t know very well, and as a result, I feel the people often perceive me as boring. By that same token, I generally find myself enamored of people who seem to have a preponderance of self-consciousness, who immediately speak easily and freely about anything because they don’t give a damn if people find them impressive or not and who are always themselves regardless of who they meet or talk to; these are the type of people I want to know. There’s such a perpetuation of “political correctness,” of self-censorship so as not to offend, in American culture that makes dialogue so sterile and bland, and I think that has heightened the attractiveness and magnetism of people who don’t strictly adhere to decorum. I guess I can only speak for myself, but I think there’s a sort of exhilaration in experiencing the openness of a person that almost feels like breaking the rules, like I’m cheating the system by participating in a conversation that is unscripted and unguarded.
That said, there is also a fine line between openness and having no filter. I went to college with a great number of people who would pipe up during class discussions with whatever thought was floating around in their heads, regardless of whether or not it was fully-formed or even germane to the conversation, and their comments ended up being more disruptive than anything else. The need for gratification and affirmation is very prominent in people of my generation, I’ve noticed, and that inward focus paired with a lack of verbal filter makes people say some really stupid, and ultimately boring, things. That old adage “Do not say anything that does not improve upon silence,” comes to mind; it’s a sentiment that seems to have fallen on many a deaf ear.
So, if we’re solving for x (as in, INTERESTINGNESS=x), what is that secret sauce that we equate with interestingness? Does x=UNGUARDED? Does x=FILTER+INTELLIGENCE+OPENNESS? Or does x=SIMPLY NOT GIVING A DAMN? I’m not a mathematician, you guys, so I couldn’t say definitively. But I hope to figure it out eventually.
What do you think x equals? Do interestingness and self-consciousness necessarily have to be enemies?