So following up on the principle from the last letter – always be curious, I want to write to you about some of the specific ways you can do that.
Here’s the first – Talk to strangers.
I know we tell small children not to talk to strangers, and that is right and you of all people understand the awfulness of child abduction, but actually it’s a fairly counter productive life strategy. We are made to live in community.
We are all humans and the more we interact and talk and understand one another the better life will be. Children need to know that, but I think as adults we can also forget the benefit there is to us in talking to strangers.
You are good in social situations. If someone is standing on their own you will usually overcome your own introverted awkwardness and go talk with them. That’s great, but it’s not really what I’m talking about. I mean talk to strangers when you are curious about them. When you wonder what is going on in their lives. When you want to know what they think of the situation they have found themselves in. When you can’t think of the answer to why they might be walking through a train station with a hawk on their arm.
Sometimes talking to a stranger will lead to a life long friendship. On other occasions you will be rebuffed and will feel momentarily awkward, but in most instances you will discover something about life or people that you didn’t already know.
As a 16 year old you travelled overnight from Belfast to London and you spent the entire night talking to the 22 year old woman sitting next to you. You asked her questions about everything. She was a professional violinist off to work on a music holiday at what is now Orpheus Trust. That conversation saw you apply to work there the following summer, where she turned out to be your roommate, and a year ago that Orpheus connection saw you jump out of a plane to raise money for the organization.
There was the Bodhran playing busker in Leicester Square, who gave you a nighttime pavement lesson when you asked him for advice as you’d just been given that instrument as a gift.
I can think of so many times when you’ve allowed curiosity to lead you to ask questions of strangers, and your life is undoubtedly richer for it.
People are usually really happy to talk about their lives and their interests; their passions and why it is they seem to be carrying a large tree trunk on a commuter train.
Be the person they talk to.