Talk to Strangers
Second Place, Adult Essay Category; 2010 Bethesda Magazine/Bethesda Urban Partnership Short Story and Essay Contest
My personal philosophy? Talk to strangers.
And, yes, I even tell my kids to do it, too, and do it often.
What better way to enrich your life, change directions, learn something new or helpful, connect with someone totally different than—or, very much the same as– yourself?
Babies are the best strangers to whom to direct a comment. So open. So absolutely without expectation for where the conversation may lead. And, they give the best feedback: They smile. They giggle. They wave.
Kids are second best. If you time it right, engaging a child in a brief conversation can reveal an all around better way of considering something. They might just share a fact, a plan, a dream, a friend, a trouble, a wish–something that makes you pause for thought and want to continue the discussion and remember being a kid. So fresh and unencumbered.
My favorite stranger might be an older folk with a lifetime of observations to share in just five minutes–at the bus stop, in line at the pharmacy, while holding the door. They don’t expect conversation, but are open to it, and their faces brighten when you try.
There are amazing stories out there. The expertise behind the unfamiliar face can sometimes be even better. Consider the man in the conversion van at the gas station I approached after getting hopelessly lost on the Beltway. I chose him over the cashier to redirect me. He rolled down his window and relayed with MapQuest accuracy not one but six exits for me to mark my trip back north and then took care to be sure I understood that I-95 would divide, where and when, and how to manage it. He was, for sure, a guardian angel.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of the cheerful chatterbox, the forced conversation or the intruding dialogue when someone is otherwise engaged.
But, in today’s world, there are great reasons to strike up a conversation with a stranger. It’s connectivity and social networking the old fashioned way. And, it’s a great way to drive your kids nuts. Speaking of which, I don’t mean to overlook the average adolescent in my stranger outreach. They practically jump out of their skin when you address them. Pulling them out of their text message with a quick question can be entertaining. And, even teens can offer illumination.
Greet a baby; ask a sales associate about her hard-to-pronounce name and what it means. At a party, go ahead and ask someone what she does for a job. It’s a way to learn more about the world and the people with whom we share its surface.
So, talk to strangers. You’ll be better for it. But, don’t be surprised if your kids leave your side when you do it—to strike up a conversation with someone new.
Heidi Rosvold-Brenholtz resides in Beallsville, Md. She is editorial director of HealthyWomen, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Red Bank, N.J., that is dedicated to helping women become more informed about their health.