As children, we are taught to never talk to strangers. It’s a good lesson, and certainly one to abide by for a long time. However, as we become adults, it becomes important to talk to strangers. Without as many opportunities to meet people, through school or at the playground, we are left with fewer chances to have meaningful encounters with new people. I have realized in recent years, just how important – and amazing – it can be to talk to strangers. It can be so easy to live in our own world and not acknowledge those around us, yet when we do, anything can happen. We can make a new friend, meet our future spouse, or have an incredible encounter that reminds us just how small the world really is.
A year and a half ago, I was at a conference in Kansas City, Missouri. It was a cold day in March, and I was excited to head off to Arizona for a few days of vacation with my mom (in warmer weather). While I waited for the shuttle, I began to make small talk with a taxi driver who was waiting for his passenger. As we talked about the cold and wind, he said he couldn’t wait to head to warmer weather in a few days. I asked him where he was going, and he answered, Panama. I told him I had been there five years prior, in a small island community called Bocas del Toro. He told me that is where he is from. With excitement, I began to tell him about my trip there. He asked where I stayed, and after a few minutes and prompted ideas from him, I was able to remember the name of my hostel, and the hostel manager who my best friend and I got to know while we were there. Guess what? They are lifelong friends. Here I was in Kansas City, talking to the best friend of someone I had met five years prior in another country. I asked him to say hello from the two American girls who played scrabble with him during the 2010 World Cup.
Not every encounter will be that special, but I do think every encounter can teach us something. I have been on crutches for over two months, so I have taken a lot of cab rides in New York City. I have had long conversations with about 80% of the drivers. I have listened to heartbreaking stories about their own families dealings with surgery, their frustrations about disgruntled passengers, and even participated in multiple debates about the upcoming election. I have learned new things and gained new perspectives through each encounter. I have been continuously reminded of how easy it can be to just ignore those around us, yet how easy it is to spark a conversation.
It’s easy to talk to strangers when we’re traveling in a foreign place, but it’s important not to forget about all of the interesting encounters we can have at home. I firmly believe we have something to learn from absolutely everyone we encounter, and interacting with others is what life is all about. I encourage you to take a moment and talk to someone you run into. You might find that you have an unexpected connection, or it might make you think about something a little bit differently. If nothing else, it can truly just feel good to talk to others, as it reminds us of our shared humanity.