Conversations with strangers

‘Strangers’ in a place called home.

A few months ago, I left my life in Bangalore to move lock stock and barrel, to a place called Auroville, a tiny hamlet of 3000 residents near Puducherry. While this was a move I had thought through many times over and had been planning for months, it was only after I moved that it struck me - I was now in a place which was culturally very different from anything I was accustomed to, and a place where I knew absolutely no one.

I was in my late thirties and was literally starting my social life from scratch.

However, I eased into the new place in very little time.

People in Auroville almost always smiled as they passed by, would strike up conversations while you waited in line for the grocery, would go out of their way to help with directions, would indulge you with stories from their lives as we waited on children at the playground..the list goes on.

Days did not seem that lonely. In fact they were peppered with tiny but pleasant interactions with people I had never met before. Strangers basically. And it was these multiple interactions with strangers which, unknowingly, made Auroville start to feel like home for me.

Strangers adding meaning to my life

As I started to settle in, we went through another round of being locked down at home. Though I was still new to this place, slowly the absence of these random exchanges with people around me started pulling me down.

I also began to recognise that this phenomenon was not limited to Auroville for me. While this applied only to warranted interactions, connecting with ‘strangers’ had actually been adding a certain richness to my life all through. However, I seem to have completely overlooked this up till now.

Curious about why this may be true, I started reading this up and came across a lot of research which highlights the emotional benefits of talking to strangers. There are multiple studies that show how casual, positive conversations with strangers strengthen our sense of belonging - making us feel more connected in an ever changing and transactional world. Research also shows that people who share meaningful and even tiny positive interactions with strangers more often, are known to be happier than other people.

Uncovering this research showed me why many of my interactions with strangers have made me happier in some subconscious way, how some have stuck with me and even taught me a little about myself and reasons why a couple of them have in fact turned into life-long friendships.

Why I talk to strangers more often now

Now that I have acknowledged the role of these interactions in my emotional well-being, I am looking for ways to consciously include them in my life - even with Covid playing spoilsport. Be it an interview with a job candidate, a webinar, an online class or support group or even coordinating with a delivery guy - I know I will benefit from them in ways I can’t always anticipate.

I wish that, through this, I can also pay it forward in some way - because we never know, someone may need a stranger like me to make their world seem more like home :)

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