I like awkward conversations with strangers. You should too.

“I said I’m not afraid anymore” — Home Alone

It always surprises me how much we’re afraid of each other. For a (potentially) very social animal in public we don’t seem to show it very much. This holds particularly true in big cities. Talk of metropolises like London or New York, and their inhabitants always talk of “oh people are in a rush” or “people are busy”, as if either of those are any excuse for lack of interaction between people.

“For a (potentially) very social animal, in public we don’t seem to show it very much.”

I recall reading a story in the newspaper a few years ago which demonstrates my point aptly. A man had died on the sidewalk of a busy London street, and no one had even noticed for a few days. This shows a lack of two things a) being present in our daily lives and b) how we are so used to being isolated and not interacting with ‘strangers’. But I have a feeling we want to change and the quick uptake of apps like ‘Happn’ seem to illustrate this view. This location based app where you connect with people you’ve walked past highlights crucial truths: a) we want those lifelike interactions, and the ability to make them all the more real and b) especially with strangers — there’s something all the more exciting about that. We’re just afraid to interact with other people in public places and we want our phone apps to make this easier for us. This makes no sense. We want to engage more in non face to face, communication to achieve more face to face communication.

“We’re just afraid to interact with other people in public places and we want our phone apps to make this easier for us. This makes no sense.”

I’m glad apps like Happn exist. I just feel it’s wrong that we’re using these tools to replace very real interactions. The key thing is these interactions don’t just have to be with the opposite sex. The meaningful purpose is just to be social. For most of us these fears have been instilled since childhood. Ever since mummy said “don’t talk to strangers”. Even our culture is partially to blame. Yes, you should never feel harassed and always be safe, but truthfully, their is a culture where we feel like we’re always in danger. When actually, we quite enjoy the exhilaration of talking to a stranger. With these negative feelings then we’ve stuck to our own social circle, and have only had the confidence to meet people who are friends of friends or other socially acceptable places to say the magical hello: networking events, bars, birthday parties and so on. But let’s not lie to ourselves, we’re afraid, social anxiety seems to trump many of us even at these events.

“For most of us these fears have been instilled since childhood.”

So what can we do? What have I done? Well, as Robert Greene mentions “Be provocative. Absurdity is underrated”. I firmly believe that success sneaks up on you. It’s those 1% day to day differences which put you in a place where you can say you’re successful at any given thing. I offer no quick fix — understand that. I myself, at any given opportunity have tried to put myself in these ‘awkward’ almost ‘provocative’ situations. By constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in social interactions, by saying hello to the barista in the cafe and continuing the conversation, by smiling and talking to someone whilst on the train you too can develop surprisingly meaningful connections. I did and I met CEO’s of international corporations, I made new friends, and I’m so much more self-aware. So be provocative, don’t be afraid anymore.

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