Speaking to Strangers
Hospitality. Curiosity. Integrity. Service. Justice.
At our leader retreat that began the semester, we examined these concepts as the core values of our ministry. We decided that in order to embrace them fully, we had to embody them and practice them in our daily lives. But how?
We agreed as a group upon a series of actions to practice these values. The first: Introduce yourself to one new person every day.
For the past week, this has been my goal. It has proven surprisingly easy, and incredibly enjoyable. As I enter new classes for the semester, I encounter rooms full of unknown faces, all with a story and something to say. I have met more people than I can remember names, far exceeding my expectations of one person a day. And it has been quite good fun.
Often, I find myself all too content to settle into a chair in a lecture hall (preferably on the end of a row, nearer the back than the front) and spend the next hour or two speaking to no one. I wouldn’t exactly call it antisocial – if someone talks to me I’ll happily speak back – but more of a tired lack of effort. In a night class at the end of a long day it seems much easier to read the paper silently than to strike up a conversation with your neighbor.
What I didn’t realize was the number of people I missed the opportunity to talk to. Just in the past week, I learned about a classmate who had just gotten off a red-eye flight, heard a man’s story about his son’s struggles and triumphs, received wonderful life advice from a stranger, met a classmate from Egypt, a business major in a horticulture class, a fellow journalist student, a barrista in a coffee shop, and I haven’t even spoken to half the people in my classes, not to mention the flood of new faces I encounter each day.
It has been wonderful. These conversations don’t drain my energy, they give me energy. They make night class more enjoyable. They allow me to walk into a lecture hall full of a hundred faces and recognize numerous smiles by the third day.
And they make me more and more curious.
Being a journalism major has taught me that everyone has a story, but I somehow didn’t extend that characteristic to all of my classmates. Now I want to know the story of each person I sit next to, and in the five minutes before class starts, maybe they’ll share a tiny snippit with me, if only their name.