Most people avoid talking to strangers at all costs because that’s what we were raised to do. For safety reasons, of course. We don’t want children getting lost or abducted by dangerous kidnappers. And yes, situations like that do happen, which is why we begun teaching our children to stay safe. As adults, we hear stories of murders, robberies, rape, etc.. So we’ve become distrusting of others for the sake of our personal safety.
However, this way of thinking holds us back from experiences that could be expansive for our personal growth and connections with others. We become more closed off because of fear or assumptions. The thing we need to realize is that most strangers aren’t dangerous. We don’t know their intentions and we can’t assume those things. There’s something magical that happens when we open ourselves to strangers.
When we talk to strangers, there are things we say like “How are you?” or “How’s your day going?” Those things don’t necessarily mean anything to either one of these people. How their day is going doesn’t mean that much to us. And being asked, doesn’t mean that much to them. However, the exchange isn’t meaningless. What really matters is the social meaning. Noticing someone’s existence gives meaning to the exchange.
Talking to strangers helps us experience something called fleeting intimacy. We connect in a special way even if it’s temporary. Interestingly, people communicate clearer and more honestly with strangers than with people they know. One reason for that being how much we care about judgements from those closest to us. We also have bias with people we’re close to. We expect them to understand us. When we talk to strangers, we know they won’t understand us so we explain more and give details to help them understand. That’s communication we don’t always give those we know. The way we communicate with strangers, gives us the kind of conversations we need sometimes.
Do we avoid talking to strangers out of prejudice?
It’s good to know when to be friendly and when not to be. We should gage this by using perceptions, not categorizing or being stereotypical. We are quick to categorize people. It’s easier than perceiving people and situations. Categories are more comfortable because they’re quick, familiar, and bias. When we encounter strangers, we throw up a wall and do a quick scan, then put them in a category that determines how and if we’ll respond to them. Examples of these categories would be “black,” “man,” “stranger.”
You never know, you might just meet a new friend! Be open and learn to perceive people and situations rather than judge and stereotype. That’s how we gage when we’re able to be friendly versus when it’s unsafe.