We are mostly sociable beings, but as we go about our daily lives we tend to hide our kindness and warmth behind a stern façade. With our closed and guarded expression we seem unapproachable, even unfriendly.
Strangers are actually a lot like us, so why aren’t we able to drop our reserve and share more of ourselves? This article from *The Book of Life Newsletter offers a refreshing approach.
We are trained from a young age to be wary of strangers. We’re told that others are to be feared, that the unknown is frightening. Indeed our excursions into all forms of the media only reinforce our perception of the world as a dangerous place filled with strangers who want to do us harm.
In reality, the stranger is often just a version of ourselves, a human being with slightly different social and psychological characteristics. Yes, they may look and sound unfamiliar but the stranger is someone who has regrets and longings, who is lonely for love and fellowship, who wants to share a laugh. The stranger was once a baby, and that stranger now just wants to say hello.
This may be hard to fathom in places like busy streets, crowded trains or airport queues where we tend to brush up against strangers en masse. Yet to feel at home in the world we need to do what friendly people do, and find the humanity beneath the surface.
The friendly person is someone who shares their attitude of basic goodwill with the world. They smile, give a supportive glance or quiet greeting; they believe it’s possible to empathise across the barriers of age, class and profession.
While some degree of shyness and reserve gives us an awareness of our impact on others, all too often we can miss our chance at truly connecting with someone. We don’t get to share reassurance or vulnerability; we don’t express warmth and curiosity.
So let’s have the confidence to imagine what we have in common, and dare to guess at what might be going on in the hearts of strangers. Who knows? They might just turn out to be a friend.
*The Book of Life is sponsored by The School of Life, a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence.