What would it take to just break the pattern and reach out - step out, knock on the neighbours door, talk to the stranger on the street not just with a polite nod of the head but in a meaningful and deeper way as if they were a fellow human with the same struggles, the same pain, the same worry? Just because.. They probably are?
What is that threshold that stops us from seeing our fellow travellers as nothing more than extensions of ourselves?
My guess is, it is mostly: fear. Wanting the reassurance that it’s going to be ok - that this particular human we’re facing is not the same as the ones we read about in the paper - the ones that are surely dangerous and horrible.
But here’s the thing: when do you ever get certainty in relationship to other people? And aren’t the ones closest to you the ones that hurt you the most and the most frequently? Shouldn’t you be staying away from THEM and hang out with the check out staff instead? - They’re generally at least polite, until you get to know them and then they’d fall into the first category and you’d have to find a new supermarket….
Get what I mean?
But then there’s the ‘weirdness’.
But actually, so what you’re feeling awkward, afraid, shy, concerned… what if it’s totally worth it to do it anyway? What if you have an opportunity EVERY DAY, almost every moment, to meet someone who will inevitably teach you another little piece of the puzzle that is your life? Have you ever considered the amount of learning and growth you’re missing out on from all those missed connections in your life? Have you thought about all the life stories you haven’t heard, the different ways of doing things you haven’t experienced because you haven’t reached out??
And so what if some people are weird? Don’t you think you’re weird to them? And isn’t it strangeness and differences that can stimulate your imagination the most? Sure, you can surround yourself everyday with the same old people saying the same old things. While you’re there, why not surround yourself with people who agree with you the whole time and take all that conflict out of life. But, let me ask you this: how would you learn? How would you grow? And how bored would you be?
But what about the risk, you might say? What about the chances of actually being mugged/burgled/killed? Doesn’t that count??
Well, I could throw a bunch of statistics at you now - and if you’re good with numbers you can work out how much more likely this would be than being struck by lightning or winning the lottery. And then work out your odds (depending on where you live, results may, admittedly, vary greatly…)
I was just told about an interesting experiment yesterday, conducted by some psychological researchers. They asked a whole big load of people what was most important in life. WITHOUT exception, people stated things, such as LOVE, CONNECTION, HAPPINESS, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY. In fact, love was the most often stated one of them all.
But then the researchers did something rather mean: they exposed the respondents individually to a ‘fake’ set of results - a complete set of lies - claiming that other respondents had without exception stated things such as ‘MONEY’ ‘POWER’ ‘WINNING’ etc.
And you know what? People believed them. They actually, wholeheartedly believed that they were the ONLY ones thinking that love and connection were important. (And presumably, took on one of two possible internal narratives: either: “I’m strange, destined for loneliness and wrong”, or: “I’m right and they’re stupid”).
Isn’t that sad? And would you have believed the scientists?
I’m afraid, those narratives are currently ruling the world - dividing us into the group of people (your friends, family) who are good and well intentioned and whom you love and enjoy the company of - and the others, who are probably strange, probably disagree and are not to be trusted (with maybe a few exceptions, but how are you going to tell the difference?)
But you know what? If you listened to your gut rather than your fear, I think you’d soon find out that everyone else out there is doing the same, and that the story sucks.
And if you applied only a little bit of sensory acuity, I’m sure you’d smell out the rotten eggs in the basket pretty reliably.
And you don’t have to jump into the deep end. After being unused for so long you need to train your trust muscles. Build them up slowly, like any good exercise regime. You can even start with the really really safe ones - wave down a police car if you must and chat to the officer (unless you live in one of those places where the police are the biggest problem). The point is to slowly, slowly build up enough courage to actually look into someone’s eyes. And when you do - hold their gaze.
And here’s another exercise for you: pull out a pen and paper (or just do this in your head) and spend 5 minutes coming up with the MOST OUTRAGEOUS things you would never do, or say to, a complete stranger. A few ideas that are so bloody crazy and would be so unbelievably awkward that even the thought makes you shudder - and that you know 150% you’ll never do. Have a load of fun with it and imagine the crazy scenes that might ensue in your head.
(Yes of course I have an agenda for this, but go and try for yourself to see what will happen)