Seven billion human beings. Seven billion human beings who all live magnificently differing lives, brimming with diverging histories and stories, their daily lives all entangled and mangled with family and friends and strangers like. The man you see park his car in front of your apartment, the woman who is perpetually holding up the coffee line and the girl who’s glued to her phone on the elevator have all lived through distinctly different experiences separate from our own. And yet, our paths cross. The strangers in our lives are worth learning from. The strangers in your lives are worth knowing.
Today, I’m teaming up with AirBnB’s initiative to make the world a little kinder and a little smaller. One Less Stranger is a social experiment created to reduce the number of strangers in the world through one kind, thoughtful act at a time. The idea is simple. Choose a tactic to bridge the gap between yourself and a complete stranger. Offer to pay for the coffee of the person behind you, give a quarter to each person paying for parking on the street where you live or ask to take a portrait of a random passerby. It doesn’t need to be grandiose or YouTube worthy, it just needs to be earnest and open up a conversation with someone you don’t know.
For my own experiment, I chose to give out brightly colored flowers. It seemed right to offer up these beauties with all the Valentine’s Day hullabulloo. Giving flowers to random strangers seemed like a warmhearted and thoughtful gift that would start a dialogue between the recipients and their family and friends that might end up seeing these babies in a glass on the counter. I liked the idea of a little flower opening a deeper conversation about acts of kindness and how incredibly large the world can be without a sense of courage to bridge the gap between our own lives and those who are around us.
As I gathered up my materials, I took a deep breath and realized how incredibly nervous I was. The anxiety to “get this over with” was palpable. And if you know me, this is strange. Seriously, seriously strange. I am not a nervous nelly. I am incredibly outgoing, especially towards strangers. And I am certainly never really afraid to start a conversation (except when I went through that awkward phase in middle school). I don’t know where this emotion stemmed from, but I’m guessing it had to do with the fact that I was unsure of how people would react. Would they brush me off and continue on their way? Would they give me hell? Would they simply feel uncomfortable to start a conversation with me?
I opened up each meeting with a simple, “Hey I want to give you these flowers!” And let me tell you, this got a plethora of different reactions… From Scott, a man I met at an intersection, who took a look at the flowers and said, “I don’t have anyone to give these to,” to Kelly, dressed as a dancing Statue of Liberty outside of a tax accountant’s office who squealed and gave me a huge hug (mid hip sway I might add), to Mr. Wertz, a local business owner who beamed and blushed, all the way to Dottie, a random customer coming from his store who expressed her appreciation with a elongated “well isn’t that niiiiiice.” People were open hearted and welcoming towards my invitation to start a conversation about themselves with me. And I was bubbling over with elated happiness. These people were not unkind. These people were thrilled to engage. Better yet, when I explained philosophy behind One Less Stranger in detail, they were curious and delighted by the idea. Simply put, taking part of this experiment felt good and it did good.
So now I open the floor to you. It’s your turn. In what small ways can you make this world filled with one less stranger?