Have you ever eaten with a stranger? Not just someone you don’t know well, but someone you’ve never seen before? If you had that opportunity, what would you talk about?
Would you exchange light pleasantries, keeping to the weather, “how about those Mets?” Or would you take a chance on a deeper conversation and possibly learn something unexpected?
I’d want to learn about the person sitting opposite me. Where are you from? Tulsa, really? I’ve never been to Tulsa. What did you like about living there? Do you miss it? What brought you here? I’d keep the conversation going by asking more specific questions, stopping only when I think I’m getting too personal.
Do you have kids? Grandkids? Do you have any pictures? Pay attention to those this stranger chooses to share. If they are on her cell, you can scroll through several. If he pulls a couple from his wallet, ask their ages. If they are older, what are they doing? You can learn an awful lot by how a proud parent or grandparent talks about family.
Steer away from those really touchy subjects. I never ask a person’s politics, religion, even their ethnicity, if I think it’s undetermined. If, on the other hand, this stranger wears a symbol of a specific religion, and you want to learn more about it, why not ask, “will you tell me about your religion?” You might learn something that will change your mind.
What I find uncomfortable is meeting strangers and have them force their ideas on me. As strangers, you don’t know if I have a son who is gay, have lost a child to cancer/drugs/texting while driving. You don’t know my political beliefs. Please don’t tell me all about your biases on these subjects. You don’t know me. And you won’t because I’ll exit the conversation as quickly as possible.
But, if you want to share in a manner where we can exchange ideas, even if they are on the opposite end of the spectrum, then I’ll engage until we talk ourselves dry.
‘Tis the season to reach out. Take a few minutes to meet a stranger. Listen, learn. You’ll be a better person for doing so.