Who is a Stranger?
A stranger is an unknown person.
Strange is an adjective typically used to describe something or someone as odd, unusual, or hard to understand.
A stranger is not necessarily a strange person.
The only thing strange about a stranger is that their characteristics are unknown.
There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.W.B. Yeats
Strange and Stranger differ by one letter, yet it makes little sense to describe an unknown person (the definition of stranger prescribed earlier) as strange.
Behind everyone and everything, there are interesting stories with which we can relate and from which we can learn. For this reason, I refrain from using the unnecessarily negative word stranger and instead define unknown people as unmet friends.
Strangers Unmet Friends Down the Airplane Aisle
Whenever I board a plane, my parents are quick to remind me of the interesting behaviour I exhibited on planes as a kid. As a five-year-old kid excited to travel somewhere new I was full of energy. Consequently, I needed an outlet to use that energy. The outlet I selected was walking down the airplane aisle and striking up conversations with strangers.
Five-year-old me was not scared of interacting with fellow passengers on the airplane. I was most certainly excited to do so. I was excited to hear what they had to say, and perhaps even more excited to share with them what I had to say.
Five-year-old me recognized unknown people were unmet friends.
Talking to Unmet Friends Today
Today, there are four environments in which I typically interact with unmet friends:
airplane aisles at work, at school, in public, and online.
In each of these environments, I typically take different approaches to how I interact with unmet friends.
At work, it is my job to serve customers. I work on behalf of a brand and do my best to adhere to the values which I believe the brand holds. When interacting with unmet friends at work, I feel comfortable because I do it often and take pride in the work I do.
At school, I engage with unmet friends, so that they can become met. School is an environment in which I feel confident in interacting with others because I feel as though I can heavily relate to others at university.
In public, I am much more reserved in how I interact with unmet friends. People in public carry a lot more uncertainty around them. Interacting with unmet friends in public is an opportunity I perceive to have high risk and high reward. The risk is subsequent to the uncertainty, in engaging with unmet friends in public it can be really hard to know what to expect. However, if the person does turn out to be someone amazing, the reward is incredibly high; the feeling of taking a random gamble and winning is hard to top.
Online, when interacting with strangers I try my best to present myself in the highest regard. Whenever I construct a message, I do my best to ensure that it represents who I believe myself to be as a person. I have seen too many people get cancelled over their tweets from five or more years ago not to.
A Purposeful Unmet Friend Encounter From This Week
Last week at school, I went up to a random person browsing social media on their phone and said “Hello”.
They quickly responded, “Hi, do I know you?”
In response to this, I explained that they did not know me and that I had an assignment for a class in which I was required to talk to a stranger.
So, we talked for about two minutes about interacting with strangers and school. Just as I felt the conversation was getting interesting, they suddenly explained that they had to get an assignment done and could not talk any longer.
I then walked away and saw them pull out their phone and go back to scrolling through social media. While I easily could be angry about someone choosing to browse social media over engaging in a real discussion, I instead perceived the event as interesting.
During the conversation, I operated much as I do online. I tried to put my best foot forward by describing myself in the highest regard that I truthfully can. What I found very different from interacting with others online, was my ability to gauge the other person’s feelings. As much as I felt the conversation was getting more interesting, I also could feel that they were tiring from it.
Interacting with others online is an activity that feels impersonal. On most online mediums, you have to wait for a response typically composed solely of text from another person. Although, I do not do it consciously I do know that subconsciously humans are trained to empathize and understand non-verbal communication from others.
I imagine that this need for non-verbal communication is what has spurred companies like Apple and Meta to add features for users to send emoji-based reactions and what has allowed Snapchat to be successful.
While this unmet friend only became an acquaintance, I am very grateful that I took the time to talk to them. It was an interesting experience and I did learn a bit about themselves, but most importantly I learned about the significance of non-verbal communication.
Conclusion – Converting Unmet Friends to Friends
I greatly look forward to continuing to interact with unmet friends. Continuing to interact with new people will most certainly allow me to learn so much more about this world, and will also enable me to make many new friends.
Here is to talking to new people 🍻!