Interacting with Strangers
I live near a wonderful large natural park which is quite unusual as it is tucked away in the suburbs. I spend a lot of time there because it’s a pleasant place to visit. As I walk through the park, I may make brief eye contact with people I pass, smile and sometimes say good afternoon or even strike up a brief conversation if that seems appropriate. Oftentimes I will do this when walking around the city where I live or places I visit as well.
Someone whom I was with recently asked me why I did that, as no one really talks to strangers anymore and wouldn’t I be potentially endangering myself by interacting with strangers? Or maybe I would appear as a threat to others. The person was right that where I live, people generally do not interact with strangers as much as perhaps used to be the case. These comments got me thinking about this issue, so I offer some thoughts from a Huna perspective.
It’s a Scary World Out There Isn’t It?
Fear plays a large role in peoples’ attitudes to strangers. Children are generally taught not to talk to strangers and this programming can remain firmly embedded into adulthood. I’m not denying that ‘bad things’ never happen as a result of interaction with strangers. However, ‘bad things’ can happen in all manner of contexts with or without strangers. Initial expectations either way can have an influence on such outcomes.
There is also the notion of the mysterious and dangerous stranger–the unknown quantity. Difference and the unknown can sometimes be the basis for fearful beliefs. It’s interesting to consider just how much we actually do have in common with other human beings. It’s amazing to think we are all here on this planet in this solar system at this time. I think there is far more commonality than difference that we can focus on.
Just for a moment, shift perspective and imagine what it’s like when you are a stranger in someone else’s eyes. Would you feel justified in being perceived as potentially dangerous and someone to be avoided? An all out ban on speaking to people who are not already known to you limits your world considerably, and taken to the absurd extreme means we would never talk to anyone we didn’t already know!
I like pleasant surprises. An old friend often used to say ‘you never know when you are entertaining an angel’. He used it to refer to making time for opportunities to speak to strangers, dropping any preconceptions and holding the expectation that some good could come of it. While I believe he may possibly have derived this phrase from the Bible (Hebrews 13 1-2: “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”), I prefer the meaning he attributed to it.
Researchers have coined a term, ‘fleeting intimacy’, to refer to a quick interaction with a stranger which can be emotionally rewarding and meaningful. I can recall many an occasion when an interaction with a stranger has led to: an interesting insight; a fascinating conversation; new connections; assistance; a pleasant outcome; and even a longer-term friendship.
There are many benefits to interacting with strangers. Here are a few considered through the lens of the Huna principles.
Aloha: The Love Connection
Many benefits stem from some of the concepts contained within the principle of Aloha. The concept of social alienation is not new. Studies have been done on the subject and while precise conclusions differ, there are some theories that social alienation–a perception of feeling disconnected from others and one’s surroundings–is more common in modern urban environments.
Two fundamental human urges are: to connect with people, places and things through the underlying motivation of love; and to be in harmony. Denial of the expression of these natural urges is often a result of the beliefs we hold about ourselves and others. Regularly resisting these drives can increase tension and reduce effectiveness and well-being.
Connecting with strangers through sharing a greeting, a smile or small talk increases that sense of connection for all parties. These interactions provide an opportunity to give to others and share our time, attention, understanding, warmth and assistance, for example.
In addition, on many occasions, interactions with strangers may involve giving compliments. This is a form of blessing which can have immense benefits both to the giver and the receiver. The benefits accrue and others benefit from the interaction with you, which of course makes you feel even better.
Kala: The Esoteric Connection
From an esoteric viewpoint, if we consider that everything is ultimately connected, then it follows that when we deny the urge to connect with others, we are denying a connection with all that we truly are. Connecting with others feels good.
Manawa: Noticing the Present Moment
Chance interactions with strangers are rarely scripted. They provide occasions when we act and react purely in the present moment. This provides an opportunity to move outside of the regular programming and habits we may adopt with those with whom we are familiar and interact with often.
Another benefit that has been acknowledged is that when we interact with someone we don’t know, it’s not uncommon to adopt a friendly disposition and come across in a positive way. This is interesting as it can help enhance our own mood. So, if you had been feeling sad or anxious prior to an interaction, the very act of putting on a positive front to a stranger can help you change your actual state to a more positive one. Acting ‘as if’ can provide a precursor to what we actually become and so can be a great state changer.
Ike: New Perspectives
I have had some really intriguing conversations with strangers and learned lots of interesting things as a result. Such interactions can help develop new knowledge, raise awareness and contribute to creativity and the development of new ideas. It can also enable us to understand more about different people–their attitudes, cultures and perspectives–which, as well as being insightful, may assist us in challenging and expanding our own belief systems and develop in new ways.
Mana: Developing Confidence
Interacting with strangers is a means of developing confidence in communicating and relating spontaneously with a diverse range of people. Activities that help boost confidence contribute to another of our natural human urges which is to increase personal power.
Pono: Flexibility and Effectiveness
Being able to ad lib and spontaneously communicate helps to develop our personal flexibility. In addition, the insights (and in some cases assistance) you may get by interacting with strangers may help you discover other ways of doing things or even lead to solutions to problems.
Makia: Focussed Attention
Interacting with strangers requires focus and is also a way of honing your abilities to focus. I like the idea of really paying attention to someone in the present moment. One effective approach is to act as though the other person is the most interesting person in the world at that point in time. This is a quick way to build rapport and develop focus and, in many cases, strangers actually turn out to be very interesting people indeed.
Practicality and Context
Of course, all this is context dependent and based on pragmatic considerations. So, for example, in the busy city centre, I don’t advocate going around smiling at everyone and saying hello which would be plain odd, nor do I suggest going out of your way to pursue someone who clearly doesn’t appear to want to make contact or to put yourself in any dangerous situation. However, taking a pragmatic approach means that you don’t have to assume the worst about others and can reap the benefits of interaction as well having more positive beliefs about the world out there.
Intention and Expectation
Perhaps the key to all this in the intention behind such interactions. My key intention is enhancing connection for all parties and in some way enhancing happiness along the way. With this intention I am confident in my interactions.
As for expectations, I expect the best to happen in whatever way it will happen. It’s as simple as that. I frame each interaction as a blessing so whatever the reaction, I silently wish the other person to have a great day. Their Ku is free to accept that blessing or ignore it and either way that’s just fine.
You might be thinking ‘what if they don’t react in the way that you expect?’. The answer is simple: don’t have any expectations about a specific reaction. Also, if you adopt the belief that you give other people permission to act in whatever way they wish, you won’t have expectations that won’t be met and you won’t face disappointment.
A Lesson from the Islands
There are of course cultural differences in how people interact with strangers. Whenever I visit the Hawaiian Islands I am always struck by how friendly and welcoming the people are. As a stranger it’s natural to be welcomed and addressed and it feels really good.
This is the Spirit of Aloha at work. Some postulate that the Aloha Spirit developed in the islands because of how remote they were and how people needed to get along in order to survive. Geographic isolation may not be such an issue in many other locales today, however, the sentiment of connecting to be more effective in your environment and help make the world a better place applies regardless of location so there is a lot we can learn from the Hawaiian culture in this respect. Ancient Hawaiians assumed friendliness from strangers. After the first friendly greeting, though, they observed the stranger’s behavior and acted accordingly. This is what happened with Captain Cook. Generosity and friendship at first, disappointment and self-protection when he broke the bonds of friendship.
What Kind of World Do You Want to Live in?
Ultimately it all boils down to considering what kind of world you want to live in. It may be the case that where you are, talking to strangers is not the done thing. You always have choices: accept the norm and live in that world; or act differently and make a change however small that might be. I certainly believe that there are benefits to interacting with strangers and a sharing a little bit of the Aloha Spirit goes a long way to creating a better world.
Pete Dalton ©2018
This article first appeared on Aloha International.