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Everyday Strangers

from DNyuz

The Benefits of Talking to Strangers

I’m a lifelong extrovert who readily establishes and relishes casual contacts with people I encounter during daily life: while walking my dog, shopping for groceries, working out at the Y, even sweeping my sidewalk. These ephemeral connections add variety to my life, are a source of useful information and often provide needed emotional and physical support. Equally important, they nearly always leave me with a smile on my face (although now hidden under a mask!).

In recent months, under stay-at-home orders because of the coronavirus pandemic, many people lost such daily encounters. I, on the other hand, have done my best to maintain as many of them as possible while striving to remain safe. With in-person time with family and close friends now limited by a mutual desire to avoid exposure to Covid-19, the brief socially distant contacts with people in my neighborhood, both those I’ve known casually for years and others I just met, have been crucial to my emotional and practical well-being and maybe even my health.

The benefits I associate with my casual connections were reinforced recently by a fortuitous find. During a Covid-inspired cleanup I stumbled upon a book in my library called “Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don’t Seem to Matter … But Really Do.” Published 11 years ago, this enlightening tome was written by Melinda Blau, a science writer, and Karen L. Fingerman, currently a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, who studies the nature and effects of so-called weak ties that people have with others in their lives: the barista who fetches their coffee, the person who cuts their hair, the proprietor of the local market, the folks they see often at the gym or train station.

In an interview, Dr. Fingerman noted that casual connections with people encountered in the course of daily life can give people a feeling that they belong to a community, which she described as “a basic human need.”

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Posted on August 3, 2020 by Editor

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