My recollection is sketchy, but I once designed a little brand for a documentary producer who made a piece about Graham, a bloke who had been ‘harvesting’ his belly button lint for over 20 years. The collection had won him a level of notoriety and seen him get a call-up to the Jay Leno show. My client was documenting the journey.
Far beyond navel gazing, I was completely fascinated. Intrigued as to why someone would decide to have this as a pastime, filled with admiration for the longevity of his pursuit, and curious as to the suite of other curiosities that accompany an individual who fixes on belly button lint collecting. The jars are probably still being filled to this day, piling up on some hallowed mantlepiece.
My response wasn’t to start my own collection, but I certainly wanted to better understand his passion. I never got to meet Graham, but I’ve always assumed he’d be an interesting fella. At least as interesting as someone who keeps a 15-year-old sample of beetroot flavoured urine.
Somehow I was reminded of Graham’s pastime when Fi began telling about the enthusiasm of her friend, Marlena, for roller derby. Fi was caught up in Marlena’s passion. She wanted to know more about roller derby – Marlena’s excitement for it made her curious. What did they wear? Where did it happen? How did they train? How long had she been competing? And why? Just why? What was it about roller derby that so enthralled her?
Fi knew nothing about roller derby, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her. She knows a fraction more now. And she knows even more about that crazy cat, Marlena.
In discovering the interests of others, I have realised: you don’t lose some of yourself by caring. And you don’t lose face by having zero knowledge of something for which another person cares deeply. Quite the contrary: your world and your heart grow.
While it may come in degrees, passion is a common currency. How it is applied may vary wildly, but if you are passionate about anything at all, you already share far more with another than you realise.
When we diminish the interests of another (assuming those interests are not toxic or destructive), it cheapens us and them.
Ridiculing the stuff in which others take pleasure does not make us bigger nor more important. Usually, it makes our world smaller and isolates the other.
The Apostle Paul addresses this with far deeper intent, but I think it works closer to the surface as well when he encourages the church at Phillipi to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
Perhaps you know someone who fits this brief. The conversation is rapid and never lacking in enthusiasm or length…so long it is centred around the things that they deem important. Move to another area of interest and you either kill the conversation or worse: you risk ridicule for the interest you brought to the table.
The strangest strain of this phenomenon that I have experienced is the one who revels in their ignorance as a means of asserting their apathy! After all, if another’s passion is meaningless, what better can be done to assert its futility than by parading a badge of ignorance, right?!
When ambivalence transitions to apathy or worse, antipathy, you’ve drifted a long way from ‘the interests of others’. Passively ridiculing through apathy is hardly the best way to deepen a relationship.
It turns out that you can discover much more about another person and the world around you by revelling in the passions of others. You don’t have to share them and, by your interest, you’re not signing up to the next roller derby team in your neighbourhood. You’re simply saying: “You matter to me and this matters to you, so this matters to me”!
I don’t think Paul was talking about belly button lint and roller derbies when he encouraged the church in Phillipi, but he was in that ballpark. He was saying, ‘don’t be so self-consumed that the only things worthy of consideration are those you deem important. If you do, you’ll miss out on discovering the joy of others and caring for their needs as well’.
I have no interest in roller derby. Well, I didn’t until Fi started telling me about it. Now I want to know more. When a story came on the news last night about roller derby, I stopped what I was doing and watched with interest. Perhaps I’d learn more; perhaps I’d spot Marlena! Fi’s friend put that on the radar for me – it became a connection from me to her.
Our concern for others and the depth of joy we derive from those around us is fueled in part by revelling in their passions. And the fastest way to learn a lot something about which you know nothing is to talk with someone who pursues it with a passion.
The passions of others move to deeper relationships when they become the conduit to the discovery of what makes another person who they are. You don’t need to fall in love with their thing, but it may just be part of loving them. Fear not, you will not lose yourself in the process, but you’ll gain plenty.