I recently heard a podcast on why we should talk to strangers. We’ve grown away from this long time past time, especially in The States, where “stranger danger’ has us all paranoid about strangers talking to us on the grounds they are psycho-killer kidnappers or wanting to convert us to Mormonism or  worse.  Covid19 added the fear of contagion. Now we won’t even come close or make eye-contact with each other. 

My late Mother had no such concerns or wasn’t even aware this was a problem. As kids we were fascinated and a bit appalled she would enter a group of strangers with a little smile, as if entering a parlor in which everyone had been waiting for her. Whether line at the grocery store or sitting next to someone on a bus she would start conversing with anyone within earshot who felt like talking.  What I need to remember (other than the embarrassment) was she was never seen as a weirdo. Not once did she receive stone silence. People like talking. If the duration of the voyage was long enough by the end of the ride she got more information out of them than any good news interviewer ever could.

Despite vowing never to become like my mother, I developed her knack for talking to strangers.* I started consciously stifling this back in the 80s with ‘stranger danger’ and ‘the satanic panic’ movements.**  I don’t talk to strangers anymore anywhere, not even to say hello or good morning. While walking the dog I fear if I said something to a woman she would immediately become anxious thinking me a creep and sensibly not respond. Salutations to the men-folk used to be OK and reciprocated too but now they too think a male stranger saying hi is suspect I am cruising them.

Curiously, if anyone says hello to me, I always light up and respond likewise and the gates are open. How many of us are waiting for the other to make the first move, lest we be seen as someone bad?

The podcast said people are more afraid than not wanting to converse. People want –  and need -to talk to each other. How else are we going to form that ever-important ‘social network” or at least get our neurotransmitters and hormones going that make healthy and feel good? You need only follow some simple rules to get things going.***

There are many reasons why we have all gone into our private Idahos, surrounded by only a few folks just like us. One of reasons is we’ve grown wary and out of practice talking to each other. Yet how many times have we heard the start of solutions is talking? That every relationship we have/had started with talking with a stranger?

This month I will try to let out my Mother’s gab this month, and see how it goes. No doubt I will experience rejection – this is the chief fear of why we don’t talk in the first place – but not as much as I fear I will happen. Talking to strangers will do me and them good. And some of it may fatefully become more than a simple exchange of pleasantries that happens when standing in line.

Spo-fans: how comfortable are you talking to strangers? How comfortable are you for strangers to initiate talking to you? Does it matter depending on the gender of the persons involved? I am curious to know.

 

*Turning into your parents is the primal scream of youth through the eons. 

**Both turn out to be rubbish. Nowadays I hear tell children are being told again to talk to strangers.In those terrible times when they become lost or actually abducted they were so indoctrinated not to talk to strangers they would not ask for help. 

*** You have to somehow acknowledge you are breaking the taboo of keeping mum. Then you should ask something specific and why you are conversing.  An example: “Oh I know shouldn’t be talking to strangers but I noticed your shoes, where did you get them? I am looking for something like them”.