CONNECTING WITH STRANGERS

 

Connecting with someone who seems like a stranger can be challenging. These are people with different cultures, people you see on the news in a different country, colleagues, or sometimes it's even the person you go to bed with at night. The times we live in demand an everyday, achievable miracle of us - to develop the skills to meet with strangers and not necessarily learn to like or agree with them, but find common ground.

An awareness of our universal humanity will help us to find common ground. We all have basic needs, we all suffer, we all want to feel connected. We don’t want to be treated like numbers, or like a means to an end. We don’t want someone to play on our emotions. We are all vulnerable to the dogma and propaganda of politicians, big corporations, leaders, the media and even our own minds. We all want the freedom to express ourselves. We all have our moments of weakness.

Morality. I believe that a common morality exists among all living creatures, one beyond man-made divides. What would our world be like if everyone could agree on such a common morality and be guided by it as a way to survive and flourish despite our differences?

Respect. Avoid forcing an opinion on someone or trying to change them. Opinions and change are personal and reflect a journey; these can’t easily be understood by someone who doesn't have insight into this journey.

Don’t immediately categorize. While this way of thinking helps organize the world around us into something we can understand, predict and respond to knowingly, it also lends itself to misinterpretation and prejudice. Being aware of our own limitations of thought is a good counter to this weakness.

Speak your truth appropriately. We often forgo speaking our minds for various reasons, or speak it with such force that it damages connection and mutual understanding. Knowing whether you should speak up, when to do so, what to say and how to say it is an art that comes with experience. A good starting point is to make sure that you focus on the the true purpose of the conversation - if what you really want is to understand and be understood, then create the grounds for that to happen.

Be aware of communication barriers. These affect our conversations generally, whether we're talking to strangers or life-long partners.

Common barriers to meaningful conversation include poor self-esteem, an inflated ego, suffering, overwhelming emotion, low energy, hidden agendas, unresolved issues, lack of time, being unaware of or dishonest about a lack of information or having opposing conversational styles.

Give yourself the opportunity for your beliefs to grow as you do. We all know examples of great shifts in belief, culture and politics, generated by people who voiced universal truths with conviction, stood by their principles and were willing to risk their livelihoods or even their lives for what they believed in. Throughout the ages we have been inspired by these people and allowed our minds to be expanded by the wisdom they shared.

Don’t take it personally when a person thinks differently and challenges your opinions. If you can understand your brain’s wariness of novel things and make the mind-shift towards celebrating differences instead of seeing them as a threat, you will allow yourself to be more open and curious towards someone who is very different from you.

We are not machines but allow ourselves to become machine-like when we are rigid in our assumptions and behaviors. When we can sit with a total stranger and be open and curious, willing to find common ground for the greater good, we make progress possible.

What is the greater good? A world filled with inhabitants who are aware - that resources are finite, that all the power in the world will not satisfy the greedy, that we are all connected to each other, that a choice by one affects all, that plants and creatures are not our possessions nor our tools but fellow living beings that need to be respected if we are to survive, that we need to find common ground and connect with each other if we are to overcome the greed, dogma, propaganda, ignorance and suffering that threatens us all.