The Art of Talking to Strangers
As a mom of four very active kids, I spend most of my time caring for others. Cleaning the house, running carpool, responding to school emails. My work with Turning Life On gives me purpose. It also keeps my mind active. The research is heavy but interesting. Our partners and champions are brilliant, witty and motivated. They inspire us everyday.
There’s something else that inspires me. Talking to strangers. It’s something that, as a society, we don't really do anymore. Is it because we’re too busy? We’re too uncomfortable? Too distracted by our phones? It’s hard to strike up a conversation with someone in the checkout line - everyone is staring at their phones. I know some of that is important work - checking in with an aging parents, responding to a work email, updating instagram stories….
Have we lost our ability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s actually not?
A few years back, our son was very sick. Our community came to our rescue with home-cooked meals, child care and loving messages and calls. We not only survived but look back at that time with appreciation. During those months, I realized that at any given time, the stranger standing next to me could be facing a similar hardship and that a warm smile or simple gesture (like helping load groceries into a car) could have a huge impact. Gestures we only think of when we’re paying attention.
There are amazing people out there. I know, I’ve met many during this journey with TLO. I've also met some in the checkout line, to my children’s embarrassment and confusion. “Mommy, why did you talk to that stranger?”
What do we miss when we look down instead of up?
If we continue to bury our heads in our phones, we’re missing out on hearing someone’s story or brightening someone’s day. I don’t want to miss those moments and I certainly don’t want my children to.
One of my favorite poems is Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. I love this poem for many reasons but there are lines that explain why I remain committed to this movement.
Who will you talk to today? What experience will you refuse to miss?
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.