(revision) un-interest it: saying what you mean in college discussion

“I think it is interesting that…”

This prompt, this stutter in student brain-to-speech process, has obfuscated almost every college-level discussion I have had. Four years, eight semesters, five classes a semester—that’s a lot of discussions. I want to say: I hope. I genuinely hope what you are about to say is interesting, or else I would rather not hear it. Typically, the declaration of interesting is followed by something insightful but not necessarily related to the word interesting at all. Ready for the dictionary definition? I know; it pains me that we have come to this point, too. I’ll go to the OED, because I’m a Boston College student with full access, and I’ve heard rumors that Dictionary.com (the free dictionary!) hoards your information upon each click.

“Interesting: adapted to excite interest; having the qualities which rouse curiosity, engage attention, or appeal to the emotions; of interest.”

The definition is very vague. “Interesting” describes (I hope) the whole college experience. We gather to discuss things that should engage our curiosity, attention, and emotions. Great, I’m glad we are all glad to be here. And despite its superfluity, this phrase persists. No one mirrors my corner-of-the-mouth frown when they hear “interesting” recycled over and over, mouth-to-mouth, in an hour span. So why the constant profession of it?

Clearly, I have spent a long time stewing about this miraculous redundancy; I have a theory. It has three parts:

  1. We have trouble pinpointing the value in what we are saying.
  2. We are not listening to each other.
  3. We have been allowed to speak carelessly.

The first point. Before we raise our hand, we have not found the thesis in our thought. Everyone lets a thought go of the rails time to time (“Oh wow. I don’t know if that made sense”). This is not what I mean. Rather, I am talking about times when we are not sure what we are saying is important. So we (not me, I have been enlightened!) feel the need to qualify what we say. Instead, we could lead with the actual thought, the sparking thing exploding at our forehead—a thing we have just discovered and are sure no one else has discovered about this text, about history, about that painting.

“The women in Jekyll and Hyde are surrounded by light imagery. There aren’t that many women in the book, so the light makes them more noticeable when they do appear.”

Hey, someone in the class says, I never thought of that. That is so much better than: “I think it is interesting that women in Jekyll and Hyde appear with light imagery.”

To be frank, no one cares if you think it is interesting. They care if the thought is a good one. I’m actually not interested in Medieval Literature at all, but when I took a class on it, I did not say, “I don’t think it is interesting that Sir Gawain has this adventure. But the language used to describe his armor mean xyz.” But people do care if you can discover something valuable in the work.

The second: Not. Listening. I am shocked that after the first “I think it is interesting” no one decides to switch up their tactical game. I mean, in sixth grade we scurried to the thesaurus to deliver us from the sins of “awesome” and “great.” Why not “interesting”? Because we have tuned it out. And that makes it easier to tune more things out, which does not bode well for maintaining vital discussions; discussion and conversation is pointless if everyone is tuned out. Think of your class participation like the hook of a good story. You are legitimately gambling for your classmates’ attention if you raise your hand. Especially where face-hiding laptop screens are concerned. Make them listen.

Finally, we have been allowed to speak carelessly. Personally, though, I don’t think professors are much at fault here. Some of us are 21 years old, legally old enough to drink and serve in the military. You would think we could trim our sentences a little. Say a coherent thought. But I haven’t seen one Professor stop the madness. It is a habit; now, it is a habit everywhere. And I wish it would have been beaten out of us during freshman year, so that by the time we got to be supposedly articulate seniors, we could say what we mean.

That’s what it is really about, saying what you mean. Someone else might try to pitch you some inspirational fiction about job marketability: “Don’t say the word interesting, and you too shall be employed!” This is not my point. My point is: say what you mean. Say the thought in your brain, turn on someone else’s thought machine, and go somewhere outside the broken tape loop of interesting. You only get so many sentences. The opportunity to speak and get someone’s attention is a privilege—is the greatest privilege. Live up to the hype.

 

 

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