A very long time ago I read a short story. I have no idea where, or by whom, or even the details of it. What I remember is the protagonist was a famous person, more by reputation than sight, who wanted to enjoy social gatherings, but never did. As soon as he introduced himself, and was revealed to be a famous person, others treated him as a fragile object too precious to be handled, or worse, as an exotic acquisition to be paraded around like a circus animal. But no one cared about him as a person. He discovered that if he pretended to be a friend of himself, others began to take interest, still with the same selfish motives, but at least they wanted to get to know him better, and were willing to engage in extended conversation. Clever, right? No.
It was a sad story of social superficiality bereft of any desire for genuine friendship or community. There was not a hint of interest in getting to know something about the other for no other reason than that people are interesting in and of themselves. It was a cartoon of cocktail parties attended by selfish superficial people behaving with selfish superficiality. But like a well crafted cartoon, it revealed a truth we all recognize because we’ve experienced it, at least in part.
It came to mind because ’tis the season of holiday parties, when the joy of celebrating over a drink or two in genuine friendship with genuine friends, the subject of greeting cards and Hallmark movies, is seductively dangled before us. Sometimes it happens. Often it doesn’t.
It happens when people take delight in others because they’re interesting in and of themselves. It’s not who they know, whether they might provide a desired connection, or be an opportunity to bask in the reflected light of celebrity. Everyone is a somebody. No one is a nobody. Everyone is worth getting to know because they’re interesting. It’s as simple as that. Not everyone needs to become a friend. There’s no requirement to even like everyone. But everyone is a unique person, and that makes them interesting, worth getting to know for no reason other than their presence in your life at that moment.
To take delight in the other simply because they’re interesting can happen even in brief exchanges at parties, in the street, or waiting in line at the grocery store. It doesn’t require deep extended conversation, as desirable as that is. It does require some sense of boundaries. Not everyone wants to be talked to. Not every encounter is a time for it. And sometimes superficial people behaving superficially are just jerks who should be avoided.
Enjoy the party.