‘Crazy’ People, a Social Observation
Have you ever had an public encounter with a stranger who has taken it upon themselves to talk to you? If one of those people take advantage of your accidental eye contact and engage you in a random conversation, what do you do?
This recently happened to me as I was travelling through a busy bus depot in Brisbane and waiting on my connection home. I was minding my own business before a I was involved in a random interaction with a man who, prior to me sitting down, was taking up a whole bench to himself.
I will admit, he looked a little odd - by normal social standards at least - but I am not the judgmental type so I took advantage of the free seat which had presented itself.
It took under a minute for the man sporting a long untidy beard and scraggly knotted hair, dressed in uncomfortably short shorts, an old baggy army jacket full of holes and a dirty tee shirt, started laughing out loud.
“Here we go” I though to myself, “that is why the seat was free”…
I say conversation, it really only consisted of a string of shady political views and conspiracy theories being shouted at me - despite him only sitting two feet away - through strongly scented whisky breath. I responded with minimal enthusiasm but gave just enough to avoid offending this colourful character.
It all started when I uneasily looked over at him upon the start of his hysterical laughter and as our eyes met, as I presume he had completely intended them to, I offered a smile which said “please don’t hurt me”.
It turns out the man was harmless enough, albeit with strange views including bringing back slavery for meth heads (?), how all bus drivers are failed policemen (?)and anywhere outside of the big Australian cities are a cover up for the illegal cow trade (??), the last one made no sense to me either.
Despite the harmless nature of this wonderful lunatic, I was very happy to see my bus arrive.
As I boarded my escape vessel, I could still hear the man shouting at me across the depot but I thought it best to ignore him as very soon, I would be in the safe confines of the bus.
Maybe I am the Crazy One?
As I sat on the bus, I admit that I felt a little guilty for the way I left things with the man, who I thought but couldn’t be sure, was still yelling at me from across the platform outside the bus.
I have no doubt that this specific individual was at least a little nuts, or maybe he had just mixed his whisky with something from Keith Richard’s pantry, but he wasn’t the first person who has randomly started speaking to me whilst I have been out and about.
This interaction did get me thinking that maybe it is those who avoid eye contact and communication with strangers who have got it all wrong, something that I have been guilty of, maybe it is us who are the weird ones.
Humans are social creatures, so why don’t we talk to each other more?
In this age of social media and typed communication (I know, I know, I sound like your Mum) it is no secret that people are speaking face to face, or even over the phone, less and less.
I wasn’t very old in the time before modern mobile phones so maybe some of you readers will be able to confirm or deny this, but I would put money on the notion that people used to talk more to each other in public, both to those they knew and to those they didn’t.
I do remember going to the pub with my Dad from a young age.
He would sit at the bar and just start talking to whoever was on the stool next to him. That person would almost always happily respond and they talk away before, after three or four pints had been drunk, I would throw a tantrum brought on by boredom and we would have to go home.
Now, when I go to the pub, I look around and people are often sat in groups with their beers, all staring at their respective phone screens.
I am also guilty of this, in fact, I was doing exactly that when I caught eyes with ‘Mr illegal cow trade’ (seriously? there can’t be an illegal cow trade taking over Australia?!).
Why Don’t We Strike up More Random Conversations?
I believe that people are now so conscious of their public persona and afraid of rejection that the idea of striking up a conversation with that person sat next to them in the park or on the bus is too scary or risky of a prospect.
What will they think of you? What if they think you are weird? What if you ARE weird?
All plausible thoughts, but as long as you don’t start spouting off gibberish about meth heads and corrupt governments, talking about races or religion, odds are that you may engage in some worthwhile chit-chat.
As previously touched on, not everybody that randomly approaches and speaks to you is weird.
The week prior to speaking with ‘Mr make meth heads our country’s slaves’, I was in Byron Bay and a man approached me to ask if I was enjoying my holiday, it turns out I was, so I replied as such.
We got to speaking about how the weather was meant to be raining but instead of getting wet, we were basking in beautiful and glorious sunshine. He educated me on the geography of the area and taught me about the microclimates often found in bay areas and how nearby mountains would often draw bad weather towards them and, in the case of Byron Bay, away from the beach.
That is some information gathered from a random conversation with a stranger that I now possess. It is has been locked away for next time I am at the pub and, should the topic arise, I find myself talking to people (instead of staring at my phone screen).
To conclude, as social creatures, we need human interaction, it helps to alleviate social and personal pressures and even helps with, according to this article by Leonard Mlodinow, improving physical and mental health.
A smile goes a long way, not a creepy intense smile, but a reassuring “I’m a nice guy” smile and if used in the right context, it may even result in friendly social interaction.
Should somebody approach you in public for a chat, entertain them, for what is the worst that could happen? You may learn something new, you might make somebody’s day by just speaking to them or, should you encounter somebody who is a little unusual, you may even have some new content to write an article with.