Today, I was working in a common study space on campus. Summer school was winding down so there weren’t a lot of people in the area.
There were two guys sitting in front of me in the distance, both looking at me and chatting with each other, then looking back at me and chatting some more. Eventually, one of them came up toward me and started talking to me while the other watched in the distance.
He asked me a few different questions (which, for the record, were completely unrelated to who I am as a person) all the while seeming uninterested in my responses. He wasn’t really looking at my face or making any kind of personal connection whatsoever. It was odd. I was unsure of his intentions and felt pretty uncomfortable. So I got up and left, after making up an excuse to do so.
A part of me wanted to engage in a deeper discussion but that willingness was clearly not reciprocated. What’s his story? Why did he approach me the way he had? What made me feel as though he was so undeserving of my trust? And how can we work around interactions like these? Perhaps I could have said something constructive, but in the moment I just felt like getting up and leaving so I did.
I decided to write about him as my stranger of the day as a way of reflecting on the interaction while sharing the experience with others who I’m sure experience similar situations regularly.
There are so many opportunities to enrich our lives with stories and words of wisdom just from talking to the people around us. But these rich experiences can only be realized when we approach one another with a certain degree of respect and personal interest.
When we compliment each other, are we commenting on personal traits or physical attributes? When we ask questions of one another, do they lead us further into understanding people and humanity and their infinite depths? Or, do they have an opposite effect?
I think the questions we ask one another say something about ourselves, our interests, and about our values. The same is true about the things we say.
I was cycling the other day, and when I got off my bike a man walked by and said, “You look good in those pants”.
“Thanks so much! I would absolutely love to engage in a conversation with you now”, said no one ever, in response. Because it’s objectifying. It’s impersonal. And frankly, it’s irrelevant.
I’ve come to realize that it’s interactions like these that perpetuate a lack of trust in society. This project has taught me that when you approach people with kindness they more often than not respond with the same, and open up far more than one might expect.