“Communication is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued.”
Walking home from the bus stop the other day, I met a good friend of mine while he was on his daily walk with his two dogs. His name is Robert, Bob for short, and he’s nearly 70. Normally I stop by and talk with him for a couple minutes and continue on my way, but this particular day was beautiful and it felt too good to pass up an opportunity to join Bob on his walk. So I walked with him and we chatted about his life and how he ended up living in our town.
There are a lot of older people in my neighborhood and they tend to do a lot of walking (that is, when there isn’t 108.6 inches of snow on the ground). I used to simply smile and keep walking to my house and that was it. That was the most interaction we two strangers had. Our lives, existing so close in proximity, only intersected with a politely forced smile. To me, that was sad.
We are told from youth, “Don’t talk to strangers”. Parents tell us this from a place of love, to protect us from the evils of those white vans and sketchy alleyways and hooded figures that we so frequently see on the news abducting children and doing horrifying things to them. However, this instinct to fear what we do not know stays as we grow up and in some huge ways, it limits us from the need to interact with others. We make friends with people our own age and remain in the safe comforts of our peer groups and relate to the dilemmas of those who are similar to us. All the while, we start to ignore and isolate senior citizens, to struggle to converse with younger people, and to be downright awkward with those who are just a couple age groups ahead.
I have learned that senior citizens absolutely love to tell their stories to younger people, hoping to be heard and valued for just a moment. Listening to them talk about their life is the greatest gift we can give, and this is not applicable to merely our elders, but everyone. The purity of our attention and the participation in conversation is how the lives of strangers intersect. We brush shoulders and smile at strangers, and thus we continue separate lives in one small world without ever knowing how it may change us to do more than smile. Random strangers in the coffee shop, people waiting in line, the cashier, the person walking towards you: ask a question, learn their name, hear their story.
Goal: Strike up a conversation with a stranger today and learn about their journey.