Connecting With Strangers: The Upside of Small Talk
Although we are often advised not to as children, I actually don’t mind talking to strangers.
Every day we are given opportunities to interact with people we don’t know well (or at all). These chance meetings are occasions for us to give and receive grace. By simply smiling or saying hello, letting someone skip ahead at the grocery or just telling someone “no problem” when they bump into you, you’re essentially being your best self when nothing is expected of you.
Where I walk my dog, I usually run into other people and their pets, many of whom are regulars to the park. I love connecting with them about our pets, the weather, or what’s going on in the area. To me, embracing these encounters is refusing to accept a world where we avoid eye contact and treat other people like they don’t exist. Usually, when I talk to these people, I take very little time out of what I’m doing (sometimes I merely wave hello), but I gain more from these connections than I lose in valuable “me time” as we say.
Another time in church, I was running late and ended up sitting out in the parish hallway. This area is typically for overflow and families with small children. My son was being oddly well-behaved pre-nap, and a woman next to me was struggling to keep her son from making goofy noises during church. At one point, my son started copying every sound her son made. It was slightly annoying, but so, so hilarious.
She tried several times to apologize to me, joking that her son was a “bad influence” but we ended up just laughing about it, acknowledging how one-year-olds just beat to their own drums sometimes. I needed that moment with her where we could share laughter about motherhood, because earlier that morning I had been running up and down the stairs packing the car and a questionably large diaper bag, feeling frazzled with the knowledge that we were running late (again).
Especially during the holidays, when everyone seems a little overworked and busy, I can remember specific run-ins with strangers in stores. A cashier who laughed with me when I returned children’s pants that I thought were adult pants that I had ordered online. A pharmacist who went out of her way to make a phone call when I had a question about a prescription on a Friday evening after my doctor’s office was closed. A man who let me have the last shopping cart when I was lugging a 20-pound child and the store was running low on carts.
I would love to go back and thank those people who I had those interactions with. Explain to them how, on that particular day, I needed that kind affirmation or how nice it was to have that casual conversation in the sunshine about our dogs or the weather. But, as you know, that’s typically not possible. And maybe that’s what makes those moments so special, how fleeting they are.
Most of the time, talking with the occasional stranger can be a surprisingly positive experience. Give it a try.
Jessica Mitchell is the Marketing & Design Coordinator at Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana. Since 1987, Youth Resources has engaged over 145,000 youth in leadership development and community service through its youth-led TEENPOWER, Teen Advisory Council, Teen Court and Make A Difference Grant Programs. For more information, please call (812) 421-0030 or visit www.youth-resources.org.