In an article in the Wall Street Journal, journalist Elizabeth Bernstein writes about how conversations with strangers can help brighten up your daily life. She writes, “Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day. A pleasant encounter with someone we don’t know, even a nonverbal one, can soothe us when no one else is around. It may get us out of our own head—a proven mood booster—and help broaden our perspective.”
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.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”