The next time you find yourself on a plane, train or bus, I dare you to chat with the stranger sitting next to you. I know, I know, weird suggestion. After all, if you’re anything like I am, there’s nothing more inviting than plugging in those headphones and zoning out once you realize that the seat next to you is sadly no longer empty. And anyways, didn’t your parents always tell you to never talk to strangers?
(Well, your parents were right. Use your best judgement – if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe NEVER feel any pressure to engage in discussion with anyone.)
That said, hear me out. If it feels like you and the person next to you are mutually comfortable, here are some reasons why you totally SHOULD strike up a conversation.
You might learn about a new culture, place or idea
A couple of weeks ago, I took a train from Philadelphia towards DC. Upon stopping at Delaware, a new passenger took the vacant seat next to me. I pushed myself to say hi to him, and small talk eventually led to one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in a while. We talked about his home state of Louisiana (which as a geek for French language and culture was beyond exciting), discussed World War II battleships, and tried to guess the speed of the train as it moved. It was awesome. I learnt so many new facts, and amazingly, got a glimpse of a new culture without even visiting its birthplace. You’ll be surprised at the range of cool things you can learn from that person next to you.
You will hone your social skills
I can’t overstate the value of this one. Unlike academic skills, it’s incredibly tough to develop social skills unless you practice them in society. When you first talk to your seatmate (not sure if that’s a word), it will be awkward. You’ll have to make small talk (ugh), recognize common interests, and then let those build into fulfilling conversations. There’ll be awkward silences and uncomfortable pauses. But this is all GREAT. Especially if you’re looking to overcome shyness and social anxiety like I did, nothing is better than getting used to these nuances in conversation. Make mistakes, embrace the awkwardness, and you’ll have smoother conversations the next time. Eventually, you might even grow to enjoy and look forward to the process!
You will push your own comfort zone
I mean this in a few ways. Firstly, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually meet someone with very different opinions to your own. To keep the conversation going, trying to empathize and understand them, is difficult. More obviously, simply plucking up the courage to talk to a random person (with YOU initiating contact) is not easy. Especially in today’s day and age, where people are more inclined to pick up their phone than talk to fellow passengers, going against the herd is an act that requires serious nerve. Ultimately, however the ensuing interaction ends, you will have increased your mental fortitude. And from personal experience, let me tell you that while the first time is nerve-wracking, the tenth feels almost routine.
You might realize how similar we are
Last but far from least. Talking to my newfound friend from Louisiana showed me that despite us being wildly different on paper, we really were not that different as people. He was Caucasian and American while I was Indian and lived in Malaysia. No matter. We both were interested in the ways of the world, we both could laugh at funny things, and we both were looking to get out of the train station as soon as possible. Keeping this in mind has really opened me up to talking to new people to whom I normally wouldn’t. It’s comforting to know that even though the world continues to divide along racial and national lines, each of us really are actually more similar than we might think.
Well – that’s all I have for y’all. If this post inspired you to talk to even just 1 new person, it would make my day and I’d love to hear about it! Also, shoutout to Verrel. His great last post motivated me to up the level of my own!