ARE YOU “INTERESTED” OR “INTERESTING?”
Channel surfing recently, I casually watched a taped tribute from early June 2014 to Jane Fonda in which she received the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. After briefly reminiscing on my early adolescent fantasy for Barbarella, I remembered that she was an accomplished and versatile actress, as well as a lightning rod for opinions on social and political issues. Years ago, few people seemed to have a neutral attitude regarding Hanoi Jane; she was either loved for her commitment to social justice or hated for her disrespect of convention.
As the evening festivities progressed, one after another celebrity touted their respect for her or roasted her, which is typical of these kinds of events. However, there were two things that jumped out at me during the course of the ceremony – the content of some of the testimonials from her peers, and her final remarks.
Meryl Streep typified what many other actors said about Fonda. When actors such as Streep were young and starting out, Jane Fonda was already a legend. They talked about how Jane reached out to them after their inaugural performances, inviting them to lunch to express her admiration for their performance and talent, to connect them to resources, and to offer her own accessibility for support. To a person, they were awestruck that she would pay heed to them, but after meeting with her, found that she was truly interested in their story. They said she listened carefully and deeply to what they had to say, asked them questions and affirmed their quality as artists AND persons of worth.
At the end of the evening, she approached the stage to a standing ovation. Her remarks were brief, but extraordinarily powerful. She talked about the importance of keeping the positive energy going, stating “it’s never too late to start over and never too late to be happy.” But the biggest impact and I believe something worth keeping in mind was in her final remark, where she expressed her personal value of attending to the needs of others ahead of herself. She said “it is better to be interested than to be interesting.”
There is a challenge to truly listening to someone; to soak in what they have to say, to consider the question or the need behind their words, to avoid the distractions of your own thoughts or thinking of a way to match their story with your own. If you could learn to be in another person’s moment, suppressing your own ego and making it all about them, you will find the rewards to be boundless. You will learn that the powerful simplicity of opening your mind to others will also open your heart and theirs as well. As a boss or colleague, as a parent or a friend, imagine the possibilities if you took the time every day to listen to the remarkable story of someone that has the need and desire to be truly heard!
Thank you, Jane, for that bit of inspiration (and for Barbarella)!