What about the conversations we don’t have?


Along with Pam at Surefoot, I’ve been having a great time this summer holding a series of conversations about climate change with around 10 people invited off the street to take part. It’s been really fascinating – but that a story that will have to wait until we’ve written up the project for the Scottish Government.

But it also got me thinking about all the conversations I don’t have about climate change – and other things that matter. And then an interview with Kio Stark about her book When Strangers Meet caught my eye:

…research has shown improved moods among commuters who chat on the subway, and happiness and creativity among people who talk to strangers.

Kio Stark always has and does. She was born in a New York family and doesn’t think it’s rare. Her reasons are many, but among the most compelling is essentially boredom. She writes that a stranger-encounter is “an exquisite interruption” to whatever expectations you had about your day. Go to work, and you know who you’ll see. Hang out with friends, and you know what to expect. But engage with a stranger, and at least something interesting might happen.

“It’s not only about novelty,” she added when we spoke. “It’s about feeling connected to my block, my neighborhood.”

At a grander scale, in an increasingly polarized society, it can require concerted effort to break out of sociocultural strata and online algorithms that are constantly pairing us with like-minded people.

Stark suggests some simple strategies for those of us who don’t routinely talk to strangers. The first is simply saying ‘hello’ to people you pass in the street. The next is to find something neutral about the place you’re in to comment on – though this is best done when sitting rather than walking.

It’s got me thinking about how this might be a starting point for conversations that touch on deeper issues – perhaps I need to order the book to find out.

Read more in How to Talk to Strangers, The Atlantic

Or, watch Stark’s Ted Talk:

Image by Ed Yourdon, used under Creative Commons