Other People

I endured an interesting but disappointing lunch today on the terrace of Aromi, one of Prague’s finest restaurants, just a stone’s throw from my own kitchen in Vinohrady. One of my closest friends had invited me to meet two American IT entrepreneurs who are developing a business software system here in Prague, as we do at systems@work. Our common interests might have drawn us together, perhaps to mutual advantage.

They were two energetic, humorous, good-looking, middle-aged men just a few years younger than me, and they buzzed with excitement about what they were doing. They were eager to tell me and my friend everything they possibly could about themselves – how they came to be living in Prague and how they came to be developing their software. Clearly the project interested them hugely, but I can’t say that I was very much the wiser, after half an hour or so, as to what they are actually doing, except that it is revolutionary and awesome, and everyone absolutely loves it as soon as they see it.

But if I was only a little the wiser as to what they are developing, and what their ambitions are for their product, they must have left the lunch table knowing absolutely nothing at all about me, simply because they asked me no questions at all.


Perhaps I am dull. But surely politeness demands that we show a balanced curiosity about other people as we chatter about ourselves and our own achievements. I know that cocktail party chit-chat becomes ever more insufferable as we get older, but showing no interest at all in others makes the experience even worse than it needs to be. If you have no curiosity about other people you might as well join a queue in Zurich and end it all. You certainly shouldn’t go to parties, or, indeed, to lunches.

From time to time I popped a question, such as about database performance issues, that suggested I might know at least a little bit about the development of scalable business software, but these questions were swatted away in favour of yet another monologue about how great their own ideas, achievements and prospects are.

I cannot think of another recent occasion when I felt so purposeless. I might as well have been a blown-up balloon instead of a living human being. I don’t think they would have noticed. I don’t think that an inability to speak, listen, even nod, would have been any discouragement to them.

But, I wonder, how can you learn anything if you never listen, if you have no curiosity about others?

It ruined my day -that, and getting soaked when the rain poured on me as I made my way home.

Sadly, I couldn’t resist a little barbed email when they wrote a follow-up note to suggest we might meet again sometime (for another purposeless monologue?).

Thanks for your note. It was interesting to hear about your various ventures, including the bicycle story, and especially how your software came into being. It sounds as if the opportunity is a great one and that you’re working with very competent people. I wish you every success. 

And I know very well how it feels to be an entrepreneur and how one’s own immediate concerns and achievements leave little time for curiosity about others’!

One might was well call a spade a spade.