Banishing Stranger Danger

“Stranger danger” is not relevant to me.  Oh sure, I’d avoid running off with someone who asked me to join a cult or threatened me with a weapon. But short of that, I love meeting new people and often get involved in conversations quicker and for longer than many of my companions would generally choose.

So a while back, I decided that in honor of all the cool people I met in my daily wanderings, I would inaugurate a “stranger of the week” feature on a blog I was then writing. It became a way of life to navigate my days and routes with the expectation of engaging strangers in public, knowing that these “chance” encounters were recipes wherein curiosity and wonder could mix with conversation to create meaningful encounters, if not friendships.  And when we’re looking for them, of course they happen more often.

I’m fascinated by movies and books and stories that depict the “what if” in seemingly random movements in people’s lives. I’m thinking of Sliding Doors, or Serendipity or Adjustment Bureau. What would have happened if someone had, for example, missed an elevator, the door just closing before they could get there. Or what if they didn’t jump on the bus they usually take or changed their routine in some way?  Would they have met new people? Would cool interactions have happened (or not happened)? Is this stuff random? Is there purpose? I sure think so.

Of course sometimes we just want to sit quietly on public transportation. And of course we need to respect others who want to do that. And of course we need to exercise good judgment…blah, blah, blah.

But far too often there are people looking around hoping to engage, and when that’s the case, it’s a match. Give it a try. So many people don’t. Which is why the local papers get filled with those ISO ads, people who are second-guessing their reticence and are now “in search of” the person they should have spoken to in the first place.

I love the idea of being open to the “Why not?” in stranger encounters. I love the idea of allowing ourselves to be touched, moved, changed, affected by each other. The alternatives, playing it cool, staying in our own head, assuming we wouldn’t have much in common, don’t lead anywhere.

I think in heaven there’s a big, ongoing party where people sit around and say things like, “Weren’t you the Airtran stewardess who gave me a Tootsie Roll as an award in 2009?” (true story of mine) or “Didn’t I sit by you on the subway on the way to Lollapalooza in D.C. in 1995?” or “Thanks for smiling at me that time on the sidewalk outside the furniture store.”

And anybody who wasn’t in on the connections in the first place will wonder why they weren’t.

So start now. Take the chance. Look around. Say or do something. Banish “stranger danger.”

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