When we were growing up, our parents would have told us at some point, in all seriousness: “Don’t talk to strangers”.
This may have been good advice to follow when we were kids. But by adopting an indifferent and guarded attitude toward strangers once we are adults, we miss out big time.
Allow me to explain.
Some of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences I’ve had over the past few years have been interactions with complete strangers. In many cases, they were with people whom I knew no longer than 10 minutes.
I’ve come away from these interactions with some fascinating stories and memories to last a lifetime.
Research has repeatedly shown that talking with strangers can make us happier, mentally sharper, healthier, less lonely, and more optimistic.
I am often surprised by how good even the briefest of interactions with a stranger can make me feel, and on many occasions, they have been the highlight of my day.
Just this week, while I was getting a haircut, I started a conversation with the barber. He was a young man from Punjab who had come to Kochi three months ago.
We spoke to each other for around 10 minutes. He told me about his hometown and shared his views on Kochi. I’ve been working on improving my Hindi, so I made a point to speak to him completely in Hindi.
Anyway, the haircut wasn’t great and looked awkward on me. But it didn’t bother me that much since the conversation we had felt much more meaningful and satisfying than getting a good haircut.
In the pre-smartphone era, perhaps boredom, if nothing else, would have forced us to be more social with strangers, especially while doing activities such as commuting.
But today, with numerous ways to keep ourselves constantly occupied on our phones, many of us never bother to initiate conversations with people we don’t know, nor see the value in doing so.
Technology can do many things for us, but one thing it cannot do is replace our evolutionary need to connect with others face-to-face, which plays a crucial role in our emotional well-being.
Striking up conversations with strangers need not be difficult.
Just lead with a smile and be friendly. By simply smiling at someone you will instantly convey warmth and in most cases, make them feel comfortable and open to having a conversation.
You could follow your curiosity and ask people questions or compliment them if you notice something you genuinely like or appreciate about them.
I’d encourage you to make an active effort to initiate conversations with strangers. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, take it up as a challenge. It could leave you with some truly rewarding experiences.
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