We've all heard it, whether it was from our parents, siblings, grandparents or even our teachers. It was a simple warning given of their desire to protect us. It's a phrase that immediately rushed caution through our veins once we heard it. It's as overused as, “Look both ways before crossing the road,” or “Make sure to use the buddy system." However, the most used cautionary phrase was definitely "Don't talk to strangers."
In a society where we wake up to the news of a new threat every day, it is a fair statement to make. Who could blame a parent for wanting to shield their child from danger? When I asked my father I could travel to Colombia alone, he half-jokingly said, “I have invested too much money in you. You dead is nothing but a negative ROI." Thanks, Dad.
With all that being said, I'm here to negate our parents' beliefs that we should avoid speaking to people just because we don't know where they went to school as well as the names of their pets. Yes, I am an advocate for ensuring one takes the necessary precautions. But at the same time, I can honestly admit that some of the most interesting and amazing people I have met were strangers I just struck up a conversation with.
Whether it is asking for suggestions when traveling or hearing about a cool job opportunity someone came across, every conversation can be a lesson. In a society where reading for fun is becoming less popular, generations are becoming more ignorant. “I don't have time,” is the excuse most of us provide as to why we don't keep up with current events.
So, why not kill two birds with one stone? Why not make a friend and learn something while doing so? I'm not saying you should talk to a stranger with the expectation that he or she is going to teach you how to code a website in one conversation. That's completely unrealistic. But, you'd be surprised what you can take away from it:
“Where are you heading back from?” “Oh, there's a documentary film festival in town.” Bam. You have just figured out what you're doing this weekend.
As cool as you may think you are, there is always someone cooler. That may sound like an awfully pessimistic statement to make, but I'd like to think it's a more of a motivational one than a negative one. We all have amazing stories and experiences and are just waiting to share them with someone. Researchers say people love to talk about themselves. But at the same time, I also believe people love to listen.
Skeptical? Think of it this way: When you are looking for a new restaurant, chances are you may use Google for recommendations. How do you choose to narrow down your options? You read customer reviews. I find it hypocritical that we downplay face-to-face “stranger” interaction, yet we have been socialized to interact with strangers online on a daily basis. It's human nature to trust others and want to listen to them. So, why not talk to that stranger in person instead of typing away behind a screen? Try it out for yourself.
The next time you're on a flight and someone takes the seat beside you, introduce yourself. You never know what can spiral from a simple hello. You'd be surprised how responsive people can be to an introduction. Often, people do want to talk; they're just hesitant to make the first move. That person could end up working in the same industry as you and develop into a client or an investor.
You could be looking for work, and that person might happen to work for a company that is recruiting. That person may be a resident of wherever you are visiting and have some amazing recommendations for great restaurants. Or, it could even be love at first sight and you two will wind up happily married. Smile at strangers, because there's usually nothing strange about them.
This article was originally published on ReadUnwritten.com.