A letter to my children…
People are like buffets. You know how, when you come down for breakfast in a big hotel chain, they have a long table at the side with lots of nice things to eat on it – five different kinds of cereal, brown, white and pumpkin-seed toast, eggs poached and scrambled, Bircher Muesli, big swirly tubs of fruit juice and yogurt……you get the picture. You never know what’s going to be on offer, but it’s usually fancier than what you get at home. Then maybe the next time you go shopping, you think, maybe I’ll branch out – try coconut yogurt on smashed mango instead of the old Weetbix and toast!
To put it another way, other people are like an open university. You can study any subject you like, for free, and add it to your portfolio. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and also a cheap (and non-habit forming) way to become a more effective person. For instance….
I grew up with not much idea about how to socialise with people. My parents were Bircher Muesli (healthful, tasty, great values) – but I missed out on bacon and eggs. So when I ventured out into the Great World, I had to study Basic People Skills. The first subject I audited was called Elizabeth. I was awed by her ability to talk for hours on end with barely any response required – whereas I was too shy to get out more than a couple of sentences. I’ve got to learn how to run on like that, I said to myself – so I did.
For wit and charm, I got myself a plate of a woman called Sian (you notice the mixed metaphors? That’s on purpose. Rules are there to be broken). From Sian, I learned that charming people is all about making them feel that THEY are the sole focus of your attention, the most fascinating and delightful person you’ve met all week. I did as well as can be expected, without plenty of application but not so much natural talent (and mendacity). I passed.
And so on, through life. You meet someone, you think ‘I wish I was a bit more like that’, you take note of the essential points, and lo and behold – a little bit of THEM turns into a little bit of YOU. I’m not trying to turn you into budding young psychopaths who see people as nothing more than useful (or not) to their evil plans. But –
There is wisdom even in psychopathy. People are much, much more than tools for learning – or dishes to be ingested and digested. But there’s nothing wrong with nibbling a little of her, a little of him, sampling a someone of every flavour. Go on, indulge your inner cannibal, my beloved ones – you’ll be better for it.