Friday, February 22, 2013

Friends not acquaintances

Today in my reality television class - a course which examines the inception and success of the reality TV genre - we had a guest speaker who talked about his methods in getting casted on one of America's most popular reality shows, Big Brother. We learned about how he created a caricature during his interview process so that he would come off as being an easily labeled character, even if that character didn't necessarily resemble him. Then when he arrived at the Big Brother house, he used some master skills in manipulation to learn about his opponents and use the information he gained on them to eventually defeat them and their weaknesses.

What I took away from the talk was different from what the general overview would suggest. In a few minutes of the lecture and Q&A session, this visitor - who I've yet to mention was Dan Gheesling - described how it was that he got to know people so he could use information he learned about them against them.

He talked about being incredibly fascinated in how other people thought, and what they thought about. He talked about books that he read suggesting how to become better at making friends and interacting with people. He said something that I always knew was true but that for some reason I've never been able to apply in my own life.

Stop talking about yourself and start listening.

That's the principle that stuck.

In his experience, this was a way to keep yourself in the shadows while others revealed their truest and most vulnerable selves. I can see how it might be used to that advantage. That's not what I want from the advice, though.

It has come to my attention recently that though I do have a small and wonderful group of friends in my immediate circle, I have a sort of impediment that keeps me from interacting with a lot of people and forging friendships with them. The impediment is that I don't do well in the kind of interactions that Dan was talking about today.

As I've written in my blog before - and as is evidenced by the fact that I have a blog - I have a lot of thoughts about myself. I don't consider this me being self-centered since most of the time I end up judging myself and trying to work out ways to become a better person. A lot of my blog involves self-help; I recognize my faults and I try and outline ways to work through those faults.

Because I am so often working on me, though, I've come to realize just how many relationships I've passed up with people I've met throughout my life.

I'm an introvert and an inward-looking individual. Often I prefer spending time alone because it allows me to stop worrying about how others perceive me and how I interact with them. It's easier to just shut myself up and not meet anyone at all.

But I'm a human being, and in being a human being I need to interact with others. Being someone who often fixates on her own personal issues, a lot of those interactions end up not being as fulfilling as they ought to be. I don't follow the cardinal rule of successful conversations which is to push the conversation away from yourself and engage the other person in talking about their life.

Being a journalism student should mean that I'm good at this. But I'm just not. I can interview someone when it's my responsibility, but when I'm in a casual situation I just don't. It's not because I am not interested in others, but because I become even more introverted as soon as I put myself out on a limb by trying to ask them questions. If I run out of questions, what will they think?, I wonder to myself.

It's silly, because objectively I know that if I want to get to know people and forge better friendships, I have to open myself up to their stories and their lives. Without that, a friendship means nothing. I'm not a fan of superficial relationships, so I never quite understand the point of being close to someone and not opening up to them.

If I'm looking to open up to others in the process of becoming friends, I have to learn to help them open up to me too. This is a problem I've faced for years, but one that I've never examined and never realized was so incredibly detrimental to my ability to meet and be friendly with everyone I wish I could be.

Well that's going to change. I don't know quite how yet, and maybe it will just have to happen organically, but I really need to start opening up to people - making conversation before it's made with me, asking people about themselves and not trying to relate that to my own experience per se, just being present in the moment and open to the words and stories of others.

This kind of receptiveness won't just help in making friends, but hopefully will help in doing other things. Maybe it will make me better understand the psychology of others (and thus my own mind a well), maybe it will give me material for my writing. If I'm lucky it will just make me happier.

Because as much as I love my alone time, I love being around people and feeling like I belong with them. Not to use that kind of relationship toward a particular purpose like Dan did on Big Brother, but because I simply like having wonderful people in my life. It's time to find some more wonderful people.

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