Deliberate Interactions with Strangers

Too often we wander through the ocean of our experience adrift.  Disconnected from reality.

There is a tendency, as we conduct the business of our daily lives, to reduce the strangers we meet in commerce, on the street, even in our classrooms, and work places as mechanisms.  We forget that they are people.

Have you ever experienced attempting to purchase some product and going through the same ritual of phrases:  “Credit or Debit?”  “Debit.”  “Thank you, have a nice day.”  “Thanks.”

This is an example of reducing people to the mechanical function they are seeming to perform for you and forgetting that these people, occupying particular roles in the context of your encounter with them, are actually individual human beings.

Sure, we don’t completely forget this fact, but I think it is important to draw our attention to the fact that we can certainly attempt to be more present minded in our daily interactions with strangers.

After all, every person you ever met started out as a stranger.

More importantly though, I think that it is personally enriching to build habits of mindful meaningful present mindedness in even the must mundane interactions with other people.

Sometimes, I feel like the person by the cash register has almost internalized their constant treatment as a mechanism.  They go through the dreary repetition of ritual statements seemingly lifelessly.  You have in your power to treat these people as thinking, caring, worthwhile beings.

When you smile, when you are clearly presently focused on the person you are interacting with, and when you ask simple questions – you can enrich the life of another person, and you can feel that you have enriched your own life from the pride that this brings you.

When we focus in on the people who shape and define the landscape of our communities, who define the commerce in our lives, and who live in our neighborhoods, we begin to take our isolated individualism and revive “community” in the truly meaningful sense of the word.

Community isn’t defined by what governing bodies do to their people.  These can only determine the infrastructure and logistical orders of community but they can never themselves become community.

Community is something that we as individuals are capable of producing in our interactions with each other.  It is something which all human beings crave.  It is something that you can simply and easily take a solid step toward cultivating by remaining present minded and charitable with your attention and mindfulness toward others.

In my own life, I’ve experimented with this.  If I need to run across the street to the gas station and pick up a bottle of water between classes it could be tempting to throw the money down in an exchange and leave briskly.

If I enter the same gas station in the middle of a conversation, it might be tempting to continue my conversation and ignore the person servicing my commerce.  This is wrong.  It contributes to the treatment of people as mechanisms rather than as human beings.

I have begun changing my pattern.  Instead I am mindful.  I am focused on the interaction.  I am dedicated to bringing some life to an otherwise dead social ritual of custom.  The result has been terrific.  I leave feeling that I gave some richness to a brief collection of moments in a stranger’s life.  I did something to contribute to the construction of a beautiful community rather than assist in its degradation.

While I know this is simple and I know this is small, I think that it is significant.  So much of the world and society can be saved through small, conscious, mindful choices made sincerely and consistently.  Not every measure we commit to must soar with grandiosity in its ambition.  These small battles make up a large part of the sum effort of our war for a peaceful, prosperous, planet.