Most of us grew up hearing our parents caution us not to speak to strangers because they are dangerous. As adults, I think it’s time we relearned that lesson. Let’s warn each other that it’s dangerous not to speak to strangers, and, therefore, we should talk to strangers on a consistent basis.
If that sounds crazy to you, give me a chance to explain.
The Man I Passed on the Street
A few weeks ago I was walking down the street in Los Gatos, California. I had stopped to grab a sandwich on my way to an appointment in town.
I walked quickly and purposefully down the sidewalk toward the sandwich shop. As I did so, I hardly noticed a grey-haired gentleman wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase approaching me from the other direction. In fact, I wouldn’t have remembered walking by him if he hadn’t looked right at me, smiled, and said, “It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”
Taken aback, I hesitated a moment, and then smiled and replied, “It is!”
I walked a few more steps and turned to look at his tall, straight back moving away. “Thanks so much for speaking to me today,” I yelled after him.
His head turned toward me. “And thank you for being in my day.”
That encounter got me thinking.
Why We Feel So Alone
That encounter left me feeling happy, acknowledged, and connected—even though I might never see that stranger again. Why? There are no real strangers. We are all members of humanity…one big family. We forget that fact and don’t acknowledge our connections with others.
Of course, there’s fear. We’ve been taught “stranger danger”—sometimes with good reason. And we have our stories about how other human beings have treated us. Those stories cause us to avoid others to ensure we aren’t treated that way again.
As a result, we typically approach other human beings with caution. And we end up feeling alone and disconnected from humanity.
Strangers Aren’t Strange
But would we be afraid of each other if we looked into each other’s eyes and saw who was really in that other person’s physical body?
This past weekend during a class I attended I got to look into the eyes of 100 different people…some healers, coaches, doctors, teachers, and business people as well some admitted drug dealers, former convicts, and abusers. You know what? They were no different from me…not when I connected with them eye to eye.
As we gazed into each other’s eyes, it was easy for us to connect on a heart level. In the other person’s eyes, we could both see ourselves, our mother’s, our fathers, and anyone else. We could forgive, love, and accept.
If we did this—really saw other people—more often, the world would be a more loving place. If we did this regularly and consistently, we wouldn’t live in fear or loneliness.
Speak to a Stranger
I’m not saying you should stand in a back alley in some city and wait for thieves or rapists to show up and then ask if they are willing to do a similar eye-gazing exercise with you.
I am saying that if we reach out to each other without fear—if we speak to the people we encounter as if they are people and see them (look into their eyes) in all their humanness—the world will become a friendlier, more loving, caring, joyous, and connected place.
Look at the bank clerk’s name tag; call her by name, look into her eyes when you speak, and ask about her family. Ask the bellman who carries your bags what he likes about his job, and look into his eyes when you thank him for his service. Stop to ask a neighbor about his children; be 100% present and attentive.
Or just say, “Hello! What an awesome day, don’t you think?” when you pass someone on the street.
Human to Human
How many human-to-human interactions do you think you can have in a day? Stretch beyond the people you know—family, friends, and co-workers. Reach out and connect with strangers.
And imagine what the world would be like if everyone did the same. Together, we could reduce or eliminate the sense of isolation and loneliness too many people feel, and we could increase their experience of being understood and loved.
You and I can change how we express being human. And that might alter our experience and understanding of humanity in the process.
We are all human beings. Remember that the next time you walk down the street and see a stranger.
How do you plan to connect human to human? Share in a comment below.
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