I am no stranger to this idea, of meeting strangers and seeing the Divine inside them. For the last nine years I have been experimenting on a more basic level by going out of my way to meet people I do not know. Last November (2018) I challenged myself to go out and meet 30 new people in 30 days. The results were amazing. But the conversations and stories I heard were even better.
Today, I was walking my dog in the park when I met Craig, a homeless man just waking up for the day. I don’t know what made me stop to talk with him, maybe I was feeling lonely or needing someone else to chat with than my usual crew. I just said, “Hello. How are you today?” Craig smiled, unsure what I was up to and then gave me a standard reply, “I’ve had better, but I’ve had worse.” I just sat down and asked him to tell me about it. He had a calm voice and body language. I could have judge him by the empty beer can next to the empty water bottle, or the deep red color in his eye. But instead I settled into his voice, seeing the Divine and listening for what I needed to hear.
Bernstein wonders why most people don’t enjoy talking to strangers like I do. “An encounter with a stranger, when pleasant, fulfills four basic human needs, according to Rachel Kazez, a licensed clinical social worker in Chicago, who advises her patients to talk to strangers when they are feeling low. We feel connected—it can sometimes be easier to open up and have an intimate conversation with a stranger because we know we won’t see that person again. We get to feel capable, because they don’t know our insecurities or setbacks. And the encounter may give us a sense of meaning or purpose, especially because a stranger doesn’t have to be nice to us.”
I’m getting used to striking up conversations with people I don’t know. And to the point above, I’m sure it’s why I am enjoying conversations with friends less and less. But more importantly, I have noticed that I am more present and more in tune with someone’s story whether or not it is true. Craig was trying his best to be honest, but like so many people I’ve met before him, the truth is not always easy to share. Stories eventually contradict. And that’s okay. Their truth is in their heart, and if they are willing to share it great. If not, at least I get a smile, a new joke, a couple of good laughs, and every now and then...some ancient wisdom.
Bernstein’s Ten Ways to Connect With Strangers
“Multiple studies show that people who interact regularly with passing acquaintances, or who engage with others through community groups, religious gatherings or volunteer opportunities, have better emotional and physical health and live longer than people who do not. The researchers believe that engaging with someone we don’t know well is more cognitively challenging than interacting with loved ones: Rather than use the verbal shorthand that develops in close relationships, we have to speak in full sentences, engaging more of our brain.”
Read her entire article at the Wall Street Journal by clicking here.