We live in a very social but fragmented culture where strangers doin’t talk to each other.. So you might ask, “How do I fit into this squabbling society? Have I any significance to anyone?  


Many of us feel we don’t always fit in this contentious society. Alcohol and drug abuse and increasing suicide rates confirm a problem here.  

David Brooks of the NYTimes recommends a fun social exercise: Instead of putting on your headphones or burying yourself in the cell when you board the train or plane, speak with the strangers next to you.

“Why don’t we do what makes us happy?” Brooks asks. “We don’t do so because we see the world in anxiety-drenched ways that cause us to avoid social situations.” Irrationally, we fear awkwardness and rejection. But that contradicts what experience suggests. Although we have the most negative expectations approaching a stranger, we are often surprised by how pleasant and appreciated we feel afterwards.


Brooks goes on to say that often we have ridiculously negative antisocial filters. He quotes Professor Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, who with his team found that people underestimate how positively others will respond when someone reaches out. Likewise, research led by Stav Atir and Kristina Wald showed that most people underestimate how much they will learn from conversations with strangers.

You may think impromptu chatting is not worth the bother. But, even without the embarrassment or rejection, what’s the point? How is chit-chatting going to add any significance or meaning to your day? 


Quite a bit, according to Brooks. Social connection makes us happier and healthier and contributes to the sweetness of life. If that’s not enough, he goes on, 

“My general view is that the fate of America will be importantly determined by how we treat each other in the smallest acts of daily life. That means being a genius at the close at hand: greeting a stranger, detecting the anxiety in somebody’s voice and asking what’s wrong, knowing how to talk across differences. More lives are diminished by the slow and frigid death of social closedness than by the short and glowing risk of social openness.

Sounds like a pretty fair, cost-free exercise to me. If nothing else, this is an antidote to self-absorption.

Categories: Humor

3 replies

  1. Absolutely! I have had some fascinating conversations with stranger seatmates on air flights. I once found that my seatmate was Gloria Steinem’s PA. I told her “I have a great idea for a money maker for Gloria.” You know how athletes have signature gear that brings in megabucks?” “How about a line of Gloria Steinem Signature mops, brooms, ironing boards, toilet brushes and the the like?” She thought that Gloria would not be amused. So much for great ideas.

Share a comment