TALK TO STRANGERS
This YouTube video, “Why You Should Talk to Strangers,” features Robbie Stokes, Jr. giving a TEDxFSU talk at the Florida State University. It was published in 2013.
In it, Stokes, a former Washington, DC events coordinator for a congressional delegate to the United States House of Representatives, tells how, the year before, he quit his job, sold all of his stuff and chased his dream about wandering around the world and talking to strangers.
Over the course of 110 days, he traveled the world, visiting 17 countries. He spent his time talking to strangers. Here’s what he learned….
Somewhere in there, Stokes also created the I TALK TO STRANGERS Foundation with a bunch of help from his friends. They call themselves a “social movement whose philosophy encourages and challenges individuals to create genuine relationships through meeting new people.”
The Foundation’s “initiatives,” – an impressive array of projects, programs and events organized in North America, Africa and Southeast Asia is detailed in the 2012 – 2017 Foundation Report.
GROWING UP CONNECTED
I grew up in a miniscule place. Molokai is the fifth largest island in the Hawaiian island chain. It measures a mere 38 miles the long way and 10 miles across at its widest point.
A lot of the island is empty. The people cluster in a few communities scattered here and there on the island.
When I was growing up, the population of the entire island stood at around a little over 5,000 folks. Wikipedia says a “town” has anywhere from 1,000 to 20,000 people. Back then, according to this, the whole island of Molokai would have qualified as a small, very rural town.
For me, there were no “strangers,” only cousins and aunties and uncles I hadn’t met yet. Even the grown-ups who weren’t officially related to me were “aunty” and “uncle.” It was good manners and proper to notice people and to greet them and to “talk story.”
It was only later, when I got off that little rock, that I encountered the rule about not talking to strangers.
I got into all kinds of trouble for acting polite. (“What do you mean, I can’t talk to that guy on the street corner? We see him every day. He’s really nice, you know….)
I never did get the “don’t talk to strangers” thing right. Maybe that was a good thing.
TALKING TO STRANGERS CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU
According to the smarty-pants who study such things, just noticing the folks around you and being noticed is a good thing. (They can’t “prove” that yet, but there are strong indications, they say.)
In 2014, a study published by psychologists at the University of Michigan was one of the first to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks (a fact of life for more than 700,000 Americans every year, it says here).
The study looked at all kinds of factors and the neighbor connection was just one correlation, but as researcher Eric Kim suggested, being friendly with neighbors has some pretty obvious benefits.
Neighbors who know each other tend to check in on one another. They talk story and share health-related information. They tend to watch out for each other. Often friendly neighbors share resources as a matter of course.
More importantly, the casual hand-wave and friendly “Hi, how are you?” adds up to a feeling that somebody sees you and acknowledges that you are there. Just the feeling that somebody’s got your back is worth the effort to be friendly, if you can.
Other studies since then have shown that people who talk to the other people around them rather than staying inside their own little bubble when they travel on public transportation or zoning out in a checkout line or hiding behind a book at a table for one, report that they enjoy their daily commutes, doing non-recreational shopping, and feeding their faces more.
The everyday nitnoy annoyances get less stressful when you’re all in it together, it seems. If you can include and engage with familiar strangers (like the guy working the cash register, the barista serving up your fancy coffee fix, or even the person you see on the bus every day), there’s a warm fuzzy feeling that trails around after you all day long.
CAN TALKING TO STRANGERS MAKE YOU SMARTER?
Not only that, but all kinds of studies have shown that talking to strangers might even make you smarter. It’s all based on a thing called the “confirmation bias.”
Every one of us tends to think the same thoughts over and over again. We look for evidence that our thinking is “right.”
We also tend to hang with people who think the way we think, act the way we act, and so on. It’s comfortable. You don’t even have to go into spasms about it.
Strangers, on other hand, “think different.” Often, that makes them annoying obstructions and challenges that you just want to ignore because they take you out of that comfortable space.
Sometimes, however, their different way of thinking may be just what you need to help you get past your own blind spots when you’re wrestling with a complex problem. Sometimes strangers can present some other way of looking at a thing that helps you move forward on some project.
You do the same for them. It isn’t a one-way street.
It could help you to think of strangers as exotic resources you can tap. What do they see? Why is it so different from your way of seeing? Is there something in there that you can use? Hmmm….
This could lead to exploratory journeys into parallel universes, you know.
WHAT IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW?
I have figured out, though, that a lot of people really do have a hard time just talking to people who are different.
Take a look at this YouTube video posted by The Atlantic magazine in 2016. It is an episode of its If Our Bodies Could Talk series.
In it senior editor James Hamblin (who is apparently not so good at talking to strangers) tries out different techniques suggested by Kio Stark, author of WHEN STRANGERS MEET: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You. Stark is really good at talking to strangers and she knows all kinds of ways to develop that skill.
The video was shot in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
The fact that talking to strangers is a skill is an important concept. A skill can be learned.
It does take a bunch of practice stepping outside your comfort zone. It also requires a certain recognition of other people’s boundaries as well as an acknowledgement of your own …..
Sure it looks funny at first. You do get better at it.
Okay. Now for an important message from your Inner Smarty-Pants….
First of all, if you’re going to get outside your comfort zone, you still have to pay attention to what your body, your head and your heart is telling you. If a person or a situation gives you the shivers, do not, not, NOT ignore those feelings in the name of “open-mindedness.”
Whatever else, fear is always real. You are feeling it and it is giving you a very important message. Your fear is your early-warning-system and it deserves your attention.
The fear you feel may not even raise a blip on somebody else’s radar. But, then, it’s not somebody else’s fear.
Get out of there and then when you can breathe again, check in with yourself and try to figure out what set off the alarms. Was it something tangible, something that makes your backing away a sensible move?
If so, thank your fear and get on with your life. If not, then take the fearful reaction as a signal that you need to slow down and take smaller steps towards your goal of being more open to experience.
Just ‘cause you’re trying to be more open-minded does not mean you want your brains to fall out nor do you want to fall into a vortex of new experiences that confuse you so much you can’t even think straight.
Keep practicing as you can. It’ll get you accustomed to testing and challenging yourself . It will also re-set your fear monitor.
Of course, as with all these types of things, it’s always important to remember boundaries.
- Don’t spark up a conversation with someone who’s not interested.
- Don’t push it if people don’t reciprocate.
- Be respectful of other people’s time and mindful of other people’s boundaries.
If you’re lucky, you might find someone else interested in sparking up a random little conversation as well.
Here’s a poem….
people with the same loves
are not strangers,
even if we’ve never met.
our worlds dance to rhythms
that mesh and climb, overflowing
into other spaces, other times
that we recognize when
we finally, at the last,
touch each other with our minds,
a hall of mirrors, each to each,
reflecting one another’s span,
refracting and expanding into many,
the penultimate one.
awww…that just sounds too esoteric,
makes it seem like angels flying.
Let’s get real:
How you, sistah?
What? You like play?
by Netta Kanoho
Header Picture credit: “The Conversation” by David Schroeder via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
SOME OTHER POSTS TO CONSIDER:
(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
22 thoughts on “TALK TO STRANGERS”
I am honoured to have my picture chosen for a so good cause. Thank you.
Thank you again, Bernard! I’m glad you like it!
This is a great article for me because I Love making new friends and by doing that you are talking to a stranger. There has never been a barrier for me about talking to people. I love meeting people ,getting to know them, and sharing ideas that will obviously benefit both parties.
Talking to strangers in my opinion is cool. Once you sense they are not interested in knowing you too, you can then pull away.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. I agree. Talking to strangers is definitely cool! Glad this post resonated with you.
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I could not agree more with you. I remember once I met this old lady at a bus stop in a suburb of Brisbane, Australia. I learnt about the old tram system that operated in Brisbane a long while ago.
I believe people are a great source of wisdom. Great article!
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. It’s amazing the things you learn when you talk to strangers!
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This was a truly beautiful heart warming article. It is not very often that you come across a blog where someone is talking about how we can make connections with other people rather than try to sell you something. This blog for me is like a breath of fresh air and for this I would like to thank you.
We live in a world especially the western society where everyone is so busy looking at their own little world that they forget to look around and see that there are people out there and everything would be so much easier if we did try to connect and communicate.
Thank you again for sharing this
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Barbara. I am so glad that you enjoyed the post.
I do agree with you that connection sometimes gets lost in all our busy and, yet, it is what makes our lives richer and more meaningful.
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What a thought provoking piece. The idea of being friendly has to do with our individual mindset. Some of us were brought up in a way that makes us suspicious of everyone. sincerely speaking that alone is enough stress.
Talking to strangers, going out of your way and facing the challenges to make friends with other can help one cope better with life challenges. I completely agree with you.
Tolu, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.
I agree that very often we do tend to be way too wary of each other. That is a shame since it is only by connecting that we, ourselves, can really be seen and heard as people.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
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What a surprising article and I agree with you. I have read your article carefully and love it very much.
I love to introduce myself to a stranger and meet more and more people. It is really amazing when you meet new people who share your own opinion and you can get to know about a stranger. A stranger means a new friend, new thought, a new idea and many more new things.
Thanks for the article.
Jafor, thanks for the visit and for sharing your own story. I do appreciate it.
That is the whole point of meeting new people, isn’t it? You encounter so many other ideas. Each of us is walking our own walk.
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Hey thank you for the awesome post!
I really liked this post because it gets to the heart of what it means to be a person in a society. When we go out and talk to others our empathy level grows, our leadership qualities grow, and, like you said, we do become smarter.
I learned this later in life, after I moved out of my parents home, because I went to college and was forced to. Now I’m glad I did!
Jessie, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. I am pleased you enjoy the article, and I do agree that talking to other folks does help us grow our empathy and leadership qualities as well.
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This is a great article.
Talking to strangers is such a hard thing to do for us all, but when we step out of our comfort zone and just say that first hey to some one it breaks the ice and opens communication.
You have really good information and explain how one should reach out and talk to strangers in a positive way.
Renea, thank you for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. I am glad you found the post helpful.
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Hello Netta, thank you for your great post on ‘Talk to Strangers’.
It is true that most people do not talk to strangers for reasons that are only known to them.
In the community that we live in, it is sometimes difficult to avoid people living close to us or passing at a supermarket. It is a common understanding that we must talk to people that pass us or we feel like strangers ourselves.
There are no strangers in the world. All of us are made equal as human beings and we must respect each other by saying hello or sharing any conversation with them.
You article is very informative on the issue of talking to strangers and we can make friends with strangers. The video on how to make friends with strangers is also very helpful in building that relationship with others.
We must also understand that we are all human beings and we must make strangers become best friend through talking to them. We must be surrounded by friendly people and not strangers. The community with more friendly people are more happier than those without friendly people.
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Augustine. I do agree that it is a comforting thing to be recognized, acknowledged, respected and perhaps even admired by other people in your community.
Feeling invisible and lost among people who seem to be ignoring you or who just don’t even notice that you exist can cause heartache and sorrow, which is not conducive to developing your own peace of mind.
Sometimes, though, it can be difficult for the ones who have been steeped in the “stranger-danger” mindset to put themselves easily into meet-and-greet mode. Some people tell me they do not like to intrude into other people’s space.
Since it isn’t my own default setting, I do have a hard time understanding their concerns. However, I do know these concerns are very real for them.
I notice, however, that if you go out of your way (even a little bit) to let other people know that you do see them and that you appreciate their presence in the world, then the bridges you make between yourself and these others can do your own heart a lot of good.
Smiles work really well for that. If you can’t talk to a stranger, maybe smiling at them might be a good start.
I am pleased that you enjoyed the post.
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What a fun topic. I have always been someone who talks with strangers, not in every circumstance of course. There is always the risk that someone assumes you are hitting on them or whatever.
This may have much to do with where I grew up. I lived through some of my important socially formative years in a rural environment. It was completely normal to greet people you encountered walking along a road or a path.
I remember it was a strange experience when I moved to a more suburban environment and the astonished reaction I got from my school teacher when I told her that we always said hello to strangers on the street.
I also recall that adjusting to the different social norms of the suburbs was a difficult and sometimes awkward experience.
Now for a different perspective on this issue, that homo sapiens evolved in small hunter-gatherer groups of around 70 people. Everybody knew everybody else in the group. In that environment encountering a stranger was a rare, scary, and potentially harmful event.
But I guess we have got past those inhibitions. Or at least some of us have.
Best regards, Andy
Andy, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I think you are probably right about how the stranger-danger thing originated. (Makes sense. If you haven’t had much experience dealing with benign strangers and if you have not been encouraged while young to meet and greet the folks along your way, it probably can be a really scary thing to just say “hi”.)
I find it fascinating that most of us can make choices that help us adapt and blend into our surroundings as well as we do. I know I also have to remember that other folks may not have had the sort of upbringing I did and watching how they move and what they do that’s different from my way of walking is interesting and, often, a surprise.
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You know everyone is a stranger until you get to know them. Even then they may become more stranger. Those are the ones I like. There are so many interesting people in this world who are brought up in different cultures and surrounded by different customs and experiences to share.
I think it is good to talk to strangers if you are interested in any diversity at all. There are a lot of people who think they are an introvert and the truth is, it is a characteristic that you can practice and change. I know this from experience.
I think if a person is worried about putting themselves out there, the best thing to do is get past that and do it. even if you are not consciously trying to change going through the motions will improve your ability to communicate with strangers. Practice makes progress. You never know, it could end up a relationship as your best friend, you could even go as far as becoming a professional speaker.
Just the thought of the whole process and possibilities is poetic in itself!
Keep sharing stuff like this, you are bringing the world together!
Chad, I love your stream-of-consciousness way of laying down your thoughts. It flows beautifully and I do agree with your sentiments entirely. Thanks.
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