Today I saw a great article on NPR about the health and happiness benefits of talking to strangers. I agree so much with this. Like many things that make us better, it makes the community and world better too.
Want To Feel Happier Today? Try Talking To A Stranger
YES YES YES. This is for sure true. It feels so great to feel like you can talk to people. You don't HAVE to talk to people but you CAN, easily.
I was SO shy as a kid. I could barely even talk to visiting relatives let alone people I didn't know well. For various reasons it got to the point of handicap. Maybe the result of growing up in taciturn times.
But live and learn. Now I talk to everybody. I want to share how this has changed my life and the tools I've found that help make it awesome.
Here's what I got so far:
1/ If you have something to say - say it! We're here on this planet for the blink of an all seeing eye, and there's some others here with us too. If we think of something we should say it. It's not just fun. It's your duty. No one has the right to prefer their own personal peace to the happiness of mankind; your place and duty are to be in the frontline of struggling people, not in the unperturbed rank of those who keep themselves aloof from life.
2/ Forget about introductions. I learned this in NYC. People aren't stupid. They know 'who' you are. And you know who they are. Just pick up the thread of whatever it is you want to talk about. This is also the key to New York City, and having a good time in any big city. Just assume away the boring and embarrassing part and skip right to the fun and interesting stuff. And put some energy in it.
3/ If you want something just ask for it. In the winter of grade four I peed my snow suit because I was too shy to ask anyone where the bathroom was at the school I was visiting. Just say what you want. Especially if you just need help. It's astonishing how much people will help if you ligit ask them. Today my whole business is built on this principle. One of the biggest problems people have is that they don't know what is expected of them. If you tell them - like plain out in words - everything is better in the world.
4/ But what if you have nothing to say or offer? Don't be like that. People are meant to be be together. We all have our authentic selves to offer. No one is so poor that they can't offer encouragement. Do that. It's surprising how much people need it. But there's lots of other things to talk about too. Since - by definition - you're both in the same place you have at least that in common. Say something positive about that. This ___ place is awesome! And something made you notice the person in a positive way. Compliment that. Your ___ is awesome. Or you can simply ask a person for their thoughts - that's ultimately how we all connect beyond simply being in the same psychical space.
And there's always gossip. Word on the street is that gossip is the worst. But my Grandmother used to say, "If you can't say something nice about somebody... come sit by me. Gossip is pervasive in all societies through all of history. Children are seasoned gossipers by five. If you take conventional advice and don't gossip you're closing yourself off from some of the most informative and useful communications ever. Despite gossip’s dodgy reputation, a surprisingly small share of it—as little as 3 to 4 percent—is actually malicious. Talking behind other people's backs may not always be nice, but sometimes it can help promote cooperation and self-improvement. Just keep it in due bounds: make sure it's interesting, helpful, limited, and hopeful - without secrets or hidden agendas.
5/ Then what? Well, nothing. You can let it go at that. But if you want to go further: Step 1. Ask a genuine question. Then LISTEN carefully to the answer and ask a second question based on what the person has said. Stay with the person by listening. Don't let your mind race off to your own shit or some like-or-similar story that you have. Swapping like-or-similar stories can fill time but it's the fast food of conversation and is ultimately pretty unsatisfying.
6/ In the end. How do you end a conversation with a stranger? Easy. Just let it go. See what happens. Say 'so long' and be happy. Or meet a lifelong friend or lover. Don't worry about it. As the Freemasons say, "Happy we meet; happy we part; happy we will meet again."
My kids grew up in a in a town where in our travels I might talk to a dozen people a day on the street and around. And it was a game for them to figure out if I actually knew the person or not. That's how it should be.
I travel the world. A lot. I think of talking to strangers as part of my education. Everybody has something to offer your education. Adm. H. G. Rickover wrote, that to understand, appreciate, and learn to live with the fellow inhabitants of our planet was central to a real education. That is done by talking to them. Every child must learn about the races and people of the world and the rich variety of the world's cultures. They must know something of the history of people and nations. And even if things don't work out sometimes that's important too. They must learn that there are many people in the world who differ from them profoundly in habits, ideas, and ways of life. We must perceive these differences not as occasions for uneasiness or hostility but as challenges to our capacity for understanding.
My BEST talking to strangers story:
Each year I go to a TV sales market in Washington DC. It's a big deal at a big downtown conference hotel. The idea is to meet and greet and sell your ideas. One day many years ago I was on the lower level of the centre and saw the janitor with his big ring of keys come out of the back passages of the hotel. I spoke to him a little about the labyrinth of the building and how many levels there were. Each year at the conference I'd see the janitor somewhere in the back halls and learned about his family, interests, home and the like.
One year I was walking at the conference with an important European distributor. As we were talking the janitor passed. I stopped our conversation to briefly say hello to the janitor and catch up. The distributor exec was clearly flustered so I got back to him and our conversation. As we walked away he said "how to you know the president of National Geographic Channels?" I don't I said. "Yes you do, that was him." The man I had mistaken for the janitor all those years because he had keys and access to the back rooms of the convention was in fact the head of National Geographic Channels and today he's one of our best customers.
What's your best 'talking to strangers story?
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.