A Strange Approach
Meeting strangers is uncomfortable. So many things can go wrong. Take sidewalk etiquette forexample: When do I make eye contact? When do I break it? Should I nod or say something? Strangers have a way of making me significantly more awkward. So, as any socially inept person would, I went hitch hiking.
I made two trips this summer, both of them state hopping between Washington and California. I was armed with only a spray can of mace and a desire to meet intriguing people. And I did. People from all walks of life gave me rides. In Gladstone, I met an ex-heroin addict who was “paying it forward” from receiving help getting clean. In Ellensburg, I met a Romanian geologist who came to the U.S. to drive asemi-truck. It turned out that meeting people was indeed awkward. There was very little common ground between these strangers and me. Finding a topic of conversation was nerve-racking at first. Yet my vehicle hosts, and hostesses, pressed on to really share who they were and find out who I was. I began to notice all these people had one thing in common: they didn’t let discomfort stop them from taking the chance to meet new people.
Their attitudes were infectious. Soon, I was talking to people anywhere my backpack would take me. People chatted with me by bus stops, gas stations, on-ramps, and even the poverty-stricken sections of Seattle. I was constantly surrounded by people, but something had changed. For the first time, I saw them not as fixed parts of the scenery. These were not just Portlanders walking down a Portland street. These were people just like me- no... I was just like them. I was one among many and every single person had a story to tell. I had made the decision to open my comfort zone and let people in. I no longer feared breaking the ice with these strangers, knowing it would only be the tip of the iceberg. It seems my fear of strangers was really just fear of my own discomfort.