Strangers are everywhere. Most of us aren’t required to trek for miles to encounter someone we don’t know. We pass strangers in our apartment hallways. We ride elevators with strangers. We walk streets filled with strangers. We drive in traffic filled with strangers. We go to concerts surrounded by strangers. We sit in dark movie theatres with a bunch of strangers. Social media algorithms suggest we connect with strangers. An entire culture of marriages has been accomplished through online coupling of strangers. And our governments are largely run by people who are complete strangers to us personally. Face it, our world is chock full of strangers. That translates as one giant opportunity to me!
I’d like to declare every day as ‘Stump a Stranger Day’. This is another famous dare from me to you to advance your stranger speak to the masters level. Strangers are an invitation to break down barriers and borders. Now, I’m not recommending you take candy from a stranger, or tell your kids to do the same. I’m wishing to close in on the compass that steers us away from strangers to instead reflect on the beauty of engagement. Every stranger is a chance to practice your compassion. Stranger speak offers an age-old gratis gift — kindness. For, as the saying goes:
The most exceptional and curious things have occurred when I’ve entertained strangers in conversation. I’ve had invitations to posh parties and been saved off the Indian streets of Bandra’s midnight darkness. Strangers have purchased my extra choir performance tickets, thereby saving me the loss of cost. I’ve sailed between the Greek Isles with a boatload of strangers when last minute my group of friends had to cancel joining me during my first trip through Greece. I’ve met a few street artists strangers in the throes of adding new paint to a wall all across the globe, from Brooklyn New York to Shoreditch London and Naples Italy. Once, a dear stranger purchased coffee for me after I spilled quite fantastically all over him and half the Starbucks at the Nashville airport.
Inversely the B-side (get it: “B” for BradensEye!) has been a fun range of stranger speak too. I’ve paid for groceries or coffee or meals for people in lines ahead of me, or in restaurants at times. I’ve spontaneously burst into dance next to strangers lost in thought and lifted their day. Sometimes a simple high-five or acknowledgment about the beauty of what someone is wearing makes both my day and theirs. I love catching eyes and then intently smiling until a stranger cannot help but notice. Just the other day at a very random coffee shop stop I needed to make in order to access wifi to do some quick laptop work, an elderly stranger shuffled in with a cane. He chose a seat just opposite me and took a moment getting seated. When I looked up again, he was settled but smiling right at me, and within his outstretched hand was a business-sized card. With a huge smile, he remarked, “This is for you!” It read (as the photo above): “KEEP SMILING”.
His smile was infectious and I matched his right back at him. In short time, ‘Barry’ asked me to come to him. I stopped my keyboard clacking and approached his chair. He handed me a small stack of these daily smile ‘business’ cards. He asked me to pass one to the young woman seated next to me, who accepted it well. He then requested I give one to the much older lady with her earbuds, who was clearly ignoring us. Something about Barry roused me to break through this woman’s walls. I gently placed the card ‘SMILING’ side up on her table, with a big smile on my end. Barry said the few other cards were for me to share with others, please. As I sat down, then elder earbuds lady piped in my direction “Is this a gimmick? Does he want money or something from me?” I promptly explained no he did not expect or desire anything from her. This card was honestly just a nice gesture aimed to brighten her day, or she may choose to pass it on to someone else in hopes to brighten their day.
Time passed as we all went about our own business for a bit, when suddenly the little lady returning to her seat from a restroom break chimed in at high pitch against the coffee shop grinding sounds to state “I gave it to a couple! They didn’t want it first, but then she accepted it. Ha!” And another stranger’s life is changed for the better. Stranger speak can work miracles if you let it. One of the sweetest, and most highly valued humans I’ve ever met, and whom I consider a beautiful friend — Adam Robinson — is finishing his new book about these very acts of love of which I write. The book reminds that life presents us with invitations to connect at all times with everyone from friend and foe to strangers all alike.
You may even aspire to stranger speak actions of philanthropy. Some of the most enlightened moments of my life have unfolded through service work with the homeless. A favorite, #HashtagLunchbag promotes ‘Living Through Giving’ by basically throwing parties with music while all make lunches for the homeless, complete with handwritten upbeat messages and drawings on notecards crafted by participants for each lunch-bag They then safely provide a plan where you may go with them to hand out the lunches on the streets. Giving hugs and compliments, looking at everyone in the eyes, and interlacing your life within the street people through meaningful listening and conversation makes the world a more loving place.
Allow a stranger to shake your hand, and accept his gift a business card and his smile. Then, turn back to applaud him in front of the entire public space, on your way out the door. There’s a unique fineness in making a stranger feel like a friend for a moment, or to gamble at bringing one into further kinship with you for a lifetime. Let your lead be the speed for others to ally across all kinds of lines in life. You just might pleasantly surprise yourself over and again by the responses you receive, along with the experiences you success in generating.
Carpe connection — Let yourself be a conduit of stranger speak sweetness!
P.s. Absorb and pass it on — detail of the card taped below my smile:
THE VALUE OF A SMILE
A smile costs nothing, but gives much. It enriches those who receive without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory sometimes lasts a lifetime.
None is so rich for mighty that he can get along without it, and no one is so poor but that he can not be made richer by it.
A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in business, and is the countersign of friendship. It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged. A smile is sunshine to the sad, and is nature’s best anecdote for trouble.
Yet, it cannot be bought, begged or borrowed or stolen, for it is of no value to anyone until given away. Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as no one needs a smile as much as he who has none to give.