Talk to strangers? Isn’t that something that our mothers told us never to do?
But I have come to realize that having little conversations with people you don’t know is a great pleasure, a great skill and great investment in… longevity! Susan Pinker (Yes, a sibling of You-know-who) in a TED Talk, explains how researcher Holt-Lunstad looked at every aspect of tens of thousands of middle-aged people to see what would keep them alive. The results were surprising. The strongest factor in their longevity was “social integration,” talking to many people throughout the day. This beat out exercise, weight, quitting smoking, and everything else. Talking to strangers. To me, that makes sense. Some of my best friends these days are people I started conversations with on the lark.
Then, a couple days ago, Nigel McQuitty bolstered this idea by relating his own joy of talking to strangers after Australia’s lockdown ended. He also pointed out that older people, like his father, tend to be especially skilled at using good icebreakers, which is the key. If his father saw someone fishing, rather than saying something mundane like “Do you like to fish?” he’d say something more likely to lead to an exchange, like “So, are you going to catch all the big ones?” That makes sense, too.
So yesterday, on the train, I tried it. I was sitting next to an older woman on the train (older folks are always the easiest to talk to) and we started talking. We talked for 20 minutes and I got advice on how to raise my daughters.
Thinking about it, I’ve come to realize that my smartphone-enslaved Japanese students have no competence in this area at all, but they probably should. As the world becomes more international and social skills deteriorate because of SNS tribalism, the ability to talk to anyone is what societies will need. So, I’m going to add “Talk to a stranger” to the homework assignments.
Curtis Kelly (EdD.) is a professor at Kansai University and nuisance to people in the park.