When I was a teenager, my brother thought it very amusing to give me Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as a birthday present. Still in print, it’s one of those self-help manuals that keeps on repeating the same basic message until it’s long enough to count as a full-length book.
All I can remember about it is that the ‘secret’ is to show interest in what other people say and to encourage them to say more and more about whatever it is they want to talk about -- while not volunteering much about yourself unless they happen to ask.
What I’ve noticed increasingly in conversations with strangers at parties is that fewer and fewer of them ever ask me anything at all about myself. It’s not that I’m desperate to tell my life story to anyone who cares to listen, but I am getting rather bored with endless details about where these people live, their family and/or job history, their hobbies, their latest ailments, etc., etc.
Quite often, I come away realising that the person I’ve just been talking still knows nothing whatsoever about me, other than what I look like. In fact, I’ve started to wonder whether Dale Carnegie might have penetrated my subconscious all those years ago and that I’ve unwittingly become rather good at following his advice.
Or, and I fear this is much more likely, it’s nothing to do with me at all, but reflects the age of the people I’m most likely to meet at parties these days. Maybe growing old really does mean that you become more and more preoccupied with yourself and less and less interested in anyone else – in which case, Dale Carnegie’s instructions may also be pointing us to the secret of eternal youth, or at least be telling us something about how resist one of the symptoms of old age.