Written by Renmart Buhay, a first year in Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology. He is an avid nature lover and outdoor enthusiast!
Imagine that you are on the 145 Bus heading to SFU Burnaby Mountain. You are surrounded by a sea of students looking at their cell phones and avoiding eye contact. The bus is drowned in silence even though people are crowded next to each other like sardines in a can.
What you’re seeing is the growing trend of non-places, which are public spaces where people have no incentive to interact with one another. People instead opt to stare into their phones instead of experiencing the people and environment around them. This isolation we create is detrimental to our social sustainability. We miss out on the unexpected and pleasant surprises of making new connections with people. As a society, we strengthen our social sustainability when we connect and collaborate with each other. We help buildclose-knit communities free of judgement of gender, age and race when we make the effort to break down the stranger barriers.
For the past few years, my friends and I have participated in an initiative called Spread The Love. As a group we travel to downtown Vancouver holding free hug posters, giving out compliment cards and striking up conversation with strangers in the streets. By letting go of all the expectations and fears I had surrounding interaction with strangers, I was able to see the beauty that surrounds me.
This is me dressed up as the Red Ranger, striking up conversation and giving hugs to strangers
Growing up in the Philippines, I noticed that the way Filipinos interacted with strangers was fundamentally different then what I experienced here in Vancouver. I guess the reason why I like talking to strangers is because of the cultural value of Kapwa that I grew up with. Kapwa means sensing the self through others. Simply put, it means “togetherness.” This “shared self” concept has stuck with me when I interact with other people. I believe we always have something to learn from each other. In an age where people see themselves separate from the world around them, I think that a more interconnected and collaborative society will be a more sustainable society. I feel happier and safer in my community knowing that people have important stories and lessons to share. Most importantly, I have been moved by the conversations I have with strangers.
I know we have excuses to not talk to strangers: “I don’t have the time” or “that person looks scary” are common ones. But perhaps it is this lack of interconnectedness in today’s society that causes people to have feelings of loneliness, anxiety and fear.
If you feel uncomfortable talking to strangers I have a couple of tips.
- The most important thing you should do when approaching a stranger is to make sure you make eye contact with them first.
- Take a moment to say hi and start a conversation. Sometimes people will ignore you or brush you off. Don’t be discouraged.
- As a human being, you have stories worth sharing and likewise, people have stories worth listening to. Don’t be afraid to share parts of yourself.
- Finally, let go of your expectations, judgement and fears.
If you want to see real examples of the “talking to strangers” movement in Vancouver then check out The Strangers Project 2014. http://www.thestrangerproject.ca/
For university students looking for inspiration, check out UBC student Aliya Dossa’s blog 101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Storieshttps://aliyadossa.wordpress.com/ and Ted Talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ9tC3PigiU She blogs about each new stranger she meets for 101 days; it’s quite thought provoking and inspirational.
Since February is the month of love and connection, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and strike up meaningful conversations with the people you pass by. If we can foster connection with the people around us, it’s a great start to fostering a connection with the ecosystems and nature around us. In turn, we make more sustainable and selfless actions when we feel connected to our community. When we open our hearts to let people in, we can learn more about the world and ourselves.
Lastly, I would like to share this quote as a sustainable thought for the day:
“We are not enemies but strangers who have not met and upon that meeting only then can it be determined what are the commonalities between us as humans living on this earth. More than likely the common threads are more than not.”
Talk to a stranger! Spread the love!
– From the Embark blogging team.