Saturday, January 2, 2010

Never Talk to Strangers? Surely You Can't Be Serious.

Of course we've all heard this from the time we were young. And for a small, unattended child, that's probably good advice. But as with so many scripts in our adult lives, what we have learned or found to be useful or true as young children do not serve us well into adulthood. Just to get this out of the way, of course do use your intuition and proper caution. If a person or situation doesn't feel safe, do not engage. I am not talking about following healthy caution. I'm referring to an aversion to the unknown. And that includes people you don't know.

I have the opposite problem. I love talking to strangers. Love it. Some days I simply cannot help myself if I'm in an elevator or in line at the grocery store. I've been told it's a Pennsylvania thing but I can't say for sure. Last year, my sweetie and I were in DC and I felt the need to stop a man in the metro and tell him he was dragging his coat tie. My sweetie politely told me I really should not talk to strangers there, it wasn't safe. I know very little about DC but I couldn't wait to get back to PA where I was promptly able to have an informative discussion about the best type of Band-Aid with a woman in the first aid aisle at Target.

Here's the beauty of engaging in a short conversation or showing a small, spur-of-the-moment kindness to someone you don't know. You will probably never see them again. There is no pressure from either of you. There's no need to impress. You are also without the burden of knowing that person's history. Sometimes it's hard to show compassion to someone who has hurt you or hurt someone you dearly love. It can be draining to show patience with someone who has let you down over and over. It can challenging to keep an open heart to someone who you've continued to watch make destructive choices. Strangers are free of these transgressions.

You don't know them. They could be saints or swindlers but at the moment you meet them, those labels don't exist. And that's what makes it easy to love them. They are a perfect place to flex your compassion muscles. You don't have to overcome the barriers of judgment that get placed on those you know. That man that you may have helped recover a dropped bag of groceries scattered in the parking lot? He could have just said some very uncharitable remarks to his wife before he left the house. Experiencing a compassionate gesture from a stranger may change his attitude and he may return home with an apology. Someone else who knew this man may have avoided him and left him to help himself. This would have then become a negative experience, reinforcing in his mind that the world is full of hate. Also note that for some, because of previous poor life choices, compassion from a stranger may be the only place for them to remember what it feels like.

You have no idea how you may effect those you meet. And there is a pressure-free safety that comes with that too. There is no way to evaluate your impact. It could be monumental or slight. No one is going to follow up and critique you. As long as you act with love you cannot make a mistake. And I can tell you that I have made changes to my day because of a chance encounter with a stranger who changed my attitude for the better. And I have begun talking to people who started out standing alone with sour faces and left with smiles.

Also remember, strangers could end up being your new best friend, business contact, or the love of your life. They could even provide you with an answer to a problem you're having. Anything! It's limitless. The Universe is always aligning you with people and events that you need to grow so you need to pay attention.

So just try it. Maybe just a simple, "How's it going?" the next time you're in a long line. And be sure to smile and mean it. And try it when you are in a good mood. Some days, you just aren't in the right frame of mind. No need to stress over it. Lastly, remember you will experience life as you perceive it. If you expect the kindness of strangers, you will surely be met with exactly that.

Happy New Year everyone :-)

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