I’ve always considered myself to be a gregarious, affable person who is not afraid of expressing herself. However, I was surprised to discover just how reluctant I have become in initiating conversations with strangers.
Yesterday, while running errands, I dashed into a local Chinese fast food franchise to grab a bite of lunch. While I munched on my kung pao chicken and read a magazine, a woman approached and took a seat at the table next to me. Although I was not annoyed with her, I did think it was odd that out of a dozen or more empty seats, she chose the one right next to me. (Okay, I guess I was a little annoyed that she was coming too close to the boundaries of my personal space.) I resumed eating and reading, and she in turn began eating and reading a novel.
A few minutes later I heard her say, “This is too much food. I should have gotten a To-Go container like you. (Her food was on a paper-plate). I responded by explaining that I had, in fact, told the counter-clerk that I was eating in but they had given me styro-foam To-Go container nonetheless. I told her that I avoid using styro-foam whenever possible. This led us into the discussion about the necessity of insisting that establishments like this adhere to environment-friendly practices, recycling styro-foam, other issues of sustainability, high rents in the neighborhood, and decluttering our apartments.
After about twenty minutes, I had finished my meal, and she had packed the rest of her lunch to go. We thanked each other for a delightful conversation and each went our separate ways.
It took no time for me to recognize how reluctant I had become to strike up a conversation with strangers. I am not typically a shy person and am quite talkative. In fact, more than one person has said that I talk too much and I need to shut up once in a while. Maybe the reason for this reluctance is the admonition of not talking to strangers given to me as a child by my mother had resurfaced from deep within. Or, perhaps I have become too influenced by others around me who are even less reluctant to engage with strangers. Maybe it’s because there really are bad people out there and I want to avoid them. Whatever the reason, I realized that I am starting a precarious inclination towards isolationism and that an attitude adjustment is required on my part.
It should be a no-brainer that we need to engage with the strangers in our neighborhoods. We need to get over the “I need my personal space” attitude. The more we engage with our neighbors, the more our neighborhoods benefit. The application of this thinking to a global situation should be obvious.
So the next time a stranger sits next to you, don’t be afraid to be the first to say “Please pass me the soy sauce.”
Lori G. © 2007