The notion of “Stranger Danger” does not sit comfortably with a strengths perspective. As I’ve said before, I want our daughters to know that most people ARE trustworthy and that if they are lost or something has happened to them, most people can be relied on to help.
In this TED talk, Kio Stark suggests:
When you talk to strangers, you’re making beautiful interruptions into the expected narrative of your daily life and theirs. You’re making unexpected connections. If you don’t talk to strangers, you’re missing out on all of that.
Talking to strangers helps build social capital and promotes horizontal community engagement. My brother has the gift of striking up conversations with strangers. He’ll talk to anybody. It can open up unexpected opportunities and surprising connections. I’m a bit more reserved, but can see the advantages.
Just the other day I passed a woman with two young teenage girls, one of whom was yelling at the other who was cowering and in tears. The woman appeared to be quite calm and in control. I’m not sure why, but I got the feeling she was a youth worker with two unrelated young people. Because she seemed to have things under control, I didn’t say anything. I wonder what might have happened if I had? Would she have appreciated it, or would I have been intruding? Probably the risks involved in ignoring the situation were greater than the risking of saying something. Essentially I let embarrassment and privacy interfere with compassion.
Stark makes a number of suggestions about how to strike up a conversation with strangers:
- If somebody make eye contact, simply smile.
- Make a comment about a third thing (e.g., something you both can see)
- Notice something (e.g., give them a compliment)
- Talk to someone’s dog or baby
- If you’re talking to somebody, take it a bit deeper by disclosing something about yourself, particularly something deeply personal.
I think I’ll give it a try over the holiday period.
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