There’s a saying that goes, “There are no such things as strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet.” I agree.
I was writing at a coffee shop the other day and a young man asked if I could watch his laptop while he went to the bathroom. I said yes. When he returned, I used our exchange as an opportunity to engage him in conversation. Our seemingly innocuous chat ended up being the foundation for a beautiful business relationship, one I couldn’t have fostered with anyone in my current friendship circle.
I, being a recently self-published author, was looking for ways to broaden my readership while also staying true to who I considered to be my audience. As fate would have it, he was a business coach whose niche was teaching small start-ups and entrepreneurs how to expand their businesses by capturing a specific share of the market. For a lifetime up until that point, we were complete strangers. Because of that exchange, the future is wide open for us to become friends if we so choose.
This interaction caused me to rethink the oft-heard advice to not talk to strangers. A big part of my adulthood has involved mentally traveling back to my childhood to rethink old advice that I am likely still following. Let’s take a moment to contemplate “stranger danger.” We were taught not to talk to strangers by adults as a precaution to protect us from the “big bad world” and all of those in it who might do us harm. Now, as adults ourselves, we do not necessarily live in the same world. Most people are not out to cause us harm or act with ill intentions nor are we as vulnerable as we once were as children. As adults, we have a lifetime of experience that we can rely on for the most part to keep us out of harm’s way.
As I write this article, I am aware that I have several privileges: I am male, I grew up in a large urban city, I’m single, and I’m relatively young and healthy. I understand that underneath people’s unwillingness to challenge the advice to not talk to strangers lies an arguably legitimate fear. By opening up, we make ourselves vulnerable, and that vulnerability increases our chances of getting hurt, rejected, or misunderstood. But, if I had never spoken to that stranger in the coffee shop, a door would’ve remained closed. Fortunately I did, a connection was made, and the door opened to opportunity for us both.
I’ll admit that being vulnerable is a risk. But the beauty of being adults is that we can now more accurately calculate that risk. If we are honest, most of the spaces that we find ourselves in are safe. A growing number of us are fortunate to live, shop, dine, and play in neighborhoods of our choosing. At this point in our modern world, the risk to engage someone in conversation is usually minimal. It is on rare occasion that people find themselves traversing dark alleys, contemplating whether to engage some figure in the distance. We need not live in a perpetual fear that our face will end up on the back of the proverbial milk carton because we spoke to a stranger in an airport or at the gym.
So take the plunge and talk to a stranger. You might just make a new friend or business partner, and perhaps learn something new about yourself.
Photo by Anna Norris
Anwar Shariff is a humanitarian at heart. He travels the world in an effort to better understand cultural contributions and the nature of humanity and spirit. His interests revolve strongly around the field of psychology, education, and spirituality. His book: The ABC’s of Everyday Living: Daily Strategies for Personal Well Being can be found at www.tripleaxios.com.