Connecting with Strangers Might Be the Most Loving Thing You Can Do
By Locke Hughes
Although I’ve had an iPhone for 10 long years, it still amazes me how effortlessly we can stay connected these days. Just yesterday I caught up with a former coworker now living in Australia, extended family in Portugal, and my college roommate in Colorado — all from the palm of my hand.
But there’s a side effect of our constant connectivity. We may be more connected to the wider world, but we’re also more insular in who we choose to talk to. Being able to conveniently chat with those near and dear to us makes us much more hesitant (or, perhaps, awkward) to strike up conversations with strangers. After all, why talk to someone new when you can Snapchat or FaceTime with your best friend while you’re riding the subway or waiting for your coffee?
Recently, I found myself in a situation where I’d be forced to look beyond my smartphone screen. I was heading to Utah on a week-long work trip… with a group of total strangers. And honestly, I was a little nervous about it. As an extroverted introvert, I’m not the most outgoing person. But with seven days ahead of me in Utah, I knew I’d have to get out of my comfort zone and forge some new connections with strangers if I wanted to take full advantage of the experience.
When I landed in the Salt Lake City, I met up with the woman who I’d connected with to share a ride to the resort. Noticing my area code, she asked where I was from in Florida. Turns out, we were from the same hometown and attended the same small high school several years apart. And the similarities didn’t end there: We were only children; we both majored in English in college; and we even had the same birthday. By the time the car dropped us off at our home for the weekend, we’d decided we were destined to meet.
In the days that followed, I had illuminating conversations with all types of people — people who, on the surface, I wouldn’t think I had anything in common with: a snowshoeing guide from London, a yoga instructor from inner-city Baltimore, an entrepreneur from California. We’d all arrived as complete strangers, but we left as genuine friends.
At the very end of the trip, I spent three days in a small mountain town nearby. I worked remotely in local coffee shops, ate dinner at a bar by myself, and chatted with rideshare drivers. Everyone I spoke with was interesting to talk to and seemed equally interested in learning about me. I stopped checking my phone to see what my friends back home were doing and instead focused on what was unfolding right in front of me. I was an introvert, totally alone in a town in Utah I’d never been to before — but I felt more in touch with the larger world than ever before.
Overall, the week opened my mind to new perspectives, new paths, and new ways of living. I was blown away by people’s passions for a variety of things, whether their jobs, the environment, their families, or the health and well-being of others. It taught me there is more than way to have a fulfilling life, and moreover, that being alone doesn’t always mean feeling lonely.
This isn’t to say you need to take a weeklong vacation to the mountains to connect with other people. These moments of human connection can happen wherever you are. Have a conversation with your Uber driver. Introduce yourself to the woman next to you in yoga class. Reach out to someone you find impressive on Bumble Bizz.
Since returning home, I’ve reminded myself to branch out more in my day to day life. Sometimes that's staying in the breakroom a little longer to chat with a coworker I don’t know that well. Other times it's getting to know the barista at the coffee shop. The common thread that runs through all of these interactions is that I'm not rushing away or avoiding eye-contact.
It may take a little more effort for those of us who are naturally shy or reserved, but the rewards of forging relationships with others are endless. I believe one of the easiest ways we can all make the world a better place is to simply commune with other people. It's a different sort of love than the traditional kind, but showing strangers kindness and respect is one way we can all bring more love and light into the world.