Today, we communicate without actually talking or displaying facial expressions. The fact that our iMessages, tweets and instas don’t require us to move our vocal chords is convenient, yes, but also worrying. As the Freshers dust settles around Oxford, we should take care to connect with strangers all around us, because we never know who we might find.
I’m not saying go out and befriend every stranger on Broad St… That may prove quite tricky and potentially problematic. Instead, we should learn when to be friendly – and how. Learning how to interact with strangers may prove valuable as we navigate new colleges, new courses and new friends.
In her TED talk, “Why You Should Talk to Strangers” (link at the end of this article), Kio Stark urges that we need to actively connect with strangers. Stark reminds us: “In many parts of the world, we’re raised to believe that strangers are dangerous by default. But most strangers aren’t dangerous: we’re uneasy around them because we have no context, we don’t know what their intentions are.”
When we connect with a stranger, we are saying ‘I see you.’
We are beginning to rely solely on generalisations of the strangers around us – striving to put them in a box – instead of interacting with strangers to find out who they really are. Stark says we should exercise our perception and make informed choices, instead of only relying on categories like ‘stranger.’
When we connect with a stranger, we are saying ‘I see you.’ We acknowledge a person as a real, individual human being. We use our humanity to recognise another’s humanity. Recognition, we may find, is therefore liberating not only to ourselves but also to the person with whom we connect.
The more we practice being friendly, the more we may find that our friendliness liberates us. Try engaging with the Tesco cashier or talking to that kid who sits at the back of your lecture. What have you got to lose?
Let’s follow Stark’s advice: make one stranger realize you see them as a real, individual person – if you can do this, it’ll help other people see you this way too.