I Talk to Strangers
It’s just one of my embarrassing habits, according to my children.
My daughter, Abigail, and I were in Target the other day. We were browsing in the same aisle as a dad and his little boy, who looked to be about 3-years-old. The boy glanced at me. I smiled at him. He grinned, and sang enthusiastically, “Go, Diego, Go!” So, I grinned back and sang with equal enthusiasm, “Go, Diego, Go!” Then we both smiled and continued our shopping. My mortified daughter whispered coarsely, “Mom! You are so embarrassing!”
Embarrassing as my behavior may be to my children, I am committed to talking to strangers. I promised myself that I will never again pass by a human being without offering some sort of acknowledgement. That might be only a smile. Often, a “hello.” Sometimes, “can I help you with that?”
Not long ago, I was struck with the realization that I could look right at someone and not even see them. The man in the line next to me at the post office, the restroom attendant, the boy leaving the school office as I walked in, and many others.
Here’s one in particular that really bothered me and led me to my promise. I ran into an acquaintance leaving a restaurant. We greeted each other with the typical, “Hi! Nice to see you! How’s so-and-so?” After a few moments like this, I said goodbye and went on my way. As I got in my car, it occurred to me that my acquaintance hadn’t been alone. I had not even glanced at or acknowledged his companion in any way! Completely unintentional, of course. I was busy mentally scanning my to-do list or the details of my next stop. However, the fact remained that I ignored a human being who was standing right before me, looking at me, for at least 30 seconds. Ouch!
Thus arose my promise to always talk to strangers. In fact, to be on the lookout for a stranger to talk to! The men who do the landscaping in my neighborhood, the people I pass on the hiking trail, the restroom attendant, the boy collecting the shopping carts in the parking lot…
My promise to myself involves taking a second of my time to make eye contact, smile, and say hello. This is validation. I previously wrote about validation & its absolute necessity in our relationships. Being validated, seen, acknowledged, tells us, “You matter,” “You are valuable.” Validation is simple and free to give, yet priceless to receive.
I feel more connected and more a part of a community than ever before. I’ve stopped thinking of people I don’t know as “strangers.” They’re simply people I have not yet had the good fortune to meet.
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