It makes you feel human “When you have even these very brief connections with strangers it is an affirmation of your existence. That is the social function of the meaningless things that we say to each other: ‘Hello,’ and ‘How are you doing?’ You’ve made it clear that you see and acknowledge each other as humans in this place.” (A butcher who loved to talk to customers in Stark’s neighborhood put it this way about those who avoid contact with strangers, at all costs: “People don’t have to live like that, like we’re not all right here together.”)
It breaks the monotony of your commute “When you start looking around the world, looking people in the eye, saying hello, maybe having a longer conversation, you have to really be there. It can break up the routine where you get very interior in your own head,” said Stark. Turning your awareness outward means you’re not on autopilot but present in the moment.
It helps you be understand
A number of sociological studies found that sometimes strangers understand us better than our friends and family. How? Sometimes, we explain things more clearly – and more freely – to strangers than to loved ones. Critical distance helps: “A stranger can listen to your feelings without having to live with them,” Stark writes.
It’s good for introverts “I have been told by a lot of people who consider themselves introverts that they actually enjoy talking to strangers, if they know that it’s brief and that they can get away any time. An aunt of mine works at a university and she really gets a kick out of it when there’s a building or repair project. She stops and asks what they’re working on. The question isn’t awkward and the answer is concrete.
It might give you something real Stark says it’s fun to get past the “membrane” of public politeness: “It’s when somebody sits down and you say, ‘How you doing?’ and they say, ‘I’m actually having the worst day.’ They’ve responded as if you actually care about their day. And you suddenly do.… When you get the story told to you and you’re seeing their face, that’s an intense way of getting to understand this inner life of someone else.”
It’s an antidote to fear While talking to strangers will probably not solve major geopolitical problems, it’s a start toward mutual respect. “There’s so much hatred going around in so many directions, so much suspicion of people who aren’t like us,” Stark said. “There is this tiny thing that everyone can do, which is spend more time getting to know people who aren’t like us and try to understand what it’s like to really be them. That extends your empathetic abilities, complicates your thinking about political situations and gives you more nuanced conversations. It’s not an abstract group of people; it’s someone you’ve had experiences with.”