Being Fully Human Tip #4: Speak with a stranger
“A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.” – Will Rogers
On Friday evening, I was about to catch the transit home but decided to stop for dinner at the Eaton Centre, Toronto’s biggest downtown mall. I ordered a healthy pasta dinner, and sat down at a long table in the food court.
I found myself sitting diagonally across the table from two women on either side of me. The lady to my left was a young professional and it seemed like she was in a rush. Just as I sat down, she pulled out her smart phone and proceeded to send text messages for the next 10 minutes, all while frantically chowing down the pizza she was eating. The lady to my right was middle-aged, and seemed exhausted as if she had just gotten out of a long day of work.
When I find myself in situations like this where I am eating alone, and yet sitting near other people, I feel extremely uncomfortable.
I find it strange that one person can sit so close to another, and yet, pretend they don’t exist.
When I was a student and would take transit to get to university, I used to love people watching; making up stories of their lives or wondering how their day was going. In second year of university, I took a drama course, and this changed me from being a people watcher to a people talker.
One of our assignments in class was to spend an entire week saying “Hi” to strangers on campus. This was extremely nerve-wrecking at first; the fear of rejection, fear of breaking social norms, and fear of not being accepted constantly swirled in my mind. I had grown up as being quite shy during my early teen years, so I found myself longing to crawl back into my shell.
This exercise in drama class turned out to be one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. It helped me practice breaking awkward silences, initiating conversation, and becoming genuinely interested in others. It helped me find common topics to speak about, improve my people skills, and often left me with the unexpected result of making a few new good friends.
Most importantly, it made me realize that the things we often think of other people and judgments we make of them based on preconceived stereotypes, are almost always false.
Just because someone looks a certain way, dresses a certain way, or comes from a particular background, it doesn’t help with guessing what they’re like as a person. Each person has a unique story, especially in an incredibly multicultural city like Toronto.
Back in the food court on Friday, and every other moment I find myself hesitating to speak with a stranger, my experience of drama class at university comes to mind and reminds me to step outside my comfort zone and just go for it.
So I turned to the lady to my right (the one who looked like she had had a long day at work), and asked her how her day was. She told me she had had a long day, had to go back to work to put in overtime, and was down about it since it was taking her away from her young son on a Friday night. She told me that she was in merchandising, and I learned more about an industry I knew very little about.
The best part of the whole experience of sharing 15 minutes over dinner together, was that we both left smiling, grateful for the conversation, and a bit more energized for the next part of our days; her staying late to finish her work, and me taking a long transit ride to my parents’ place in the suburbs.
Too often, I believe we are caught up in our heads thinking about something other than the present moment, or busy working on our technological devices to chip away at our endless list of “to do’s”.
This week, I encourage you to challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone, break the silence, and speak with a stranger.
Sometimes it can be as simple as sitting next to someone while sharing a commute and asking them how their day was; noticing and complementing them about something; or asking them what book they are reading.
Speaking with the people I encounter on a day to day basis gives me a break from my list of pending tasks and makes me more present and connected to what is happening around me. In doing so, I learn more about someone else, help myself grow as a person, perhaps make a new friend, and certainly feel good from trying to make the world a bit of a better place.
I believe we’re here to connect with others, and in connecting with others, we learn a bit more about why we’re here.
We are all more similar than different. We are bonded in our humanity, and yet each of us has a unique experience of truth and life.
Speak with a stranger. Share life stories. Learn about humanity.