Do you ever think about the world? How there are seven continents and five oceans and billions of people all on a little dot suspended in a vast universe? We’re all human beings living on one miraculously perfect Earth, but I feel like people forget it sometimes. We forget about these seven billion other people living on this planet and very often, don’t take the time to reach out and connect, only because they are strangers to us.
Strangers, however, are simply friends you haven’t met yet.
When we’re younger, we’re told to never speak to strangers. Strangers are painted as dangerous people who will harm you, trick you, or worse, take your lunch money. As much as this is helpful to avoid dangerous situations when we are 5 years old, this parental advice is embedded in an idea that people you do not know are inherently bad.
I don’t think this could be any further from the truth.
Although you may not know them, strangers have a lifetime of experiences that you may not have had. They’ve seen life through different eyes and past situations. Why should we separate ourselves from that world of knowledge only because our preconceived notions have trained us to think of them as different from us?
For the past year, I’ve been on a journey to explore pigeonholes. I started writing this column because I saw distinct clusters in our Lehigh community. I wanted to give readers the chance to delve into someone else’s experience in order to extrapolate some meaning to apply to their own.
Through that process, however, I’ve made more friends than I could have ever anticipated.
I’ve written eight columns for this series and after each one, random people from the community would message me to start conversation on the topic. I’ve received almost 77 emails and 34 Facebook message requests all from complete strangers who simply wanted to share their story or to express a reaction.
Through each email or Facebook message, I’ve had discussions with people I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten the chance to meet. I learned a little more about their story and in turn, got the chance to connect with really sincere and interesting human beings.
For those interactions, I am really thankful for this column. The fact that someone read my column and that something meaningful resonated with them is incredibly humbling. People made parallels to a story I relayed and found the overlaps in their life. Their responses are something that I didn’t expect but that I hope can continue in everyday life.
I know that it takes time and energy to reach out and engage with someone who is a stranger to you. It’s awkward to start conversation, the connection isn’t always immediately obvious. Sometimes, you just don’t feel like being social.
But the willingness to extend your consciousness to others is really integral in learning more about yourself. When you listen to someone’s story, opinions and ideas, you gain a world of knowledge you otherwise wouldn’t have had. You can simply grow from their experiences because those experiences might not be like your own.
You can also make a friend.
This column has allowed for me to turn strangers into friends, but you don’t need to write for The Brown and White to do so. Reach out to someone sitting at the library during finals and ask them if they want to take a study break with you. Ask the barista making your coffee when her next break is and whether she’d like to have a chat with you. Give cookies out to strangers in FML to brighten their day.
There are so many ways that you can engage with others and make friends. It doesn’t have to be during class or at a random party. You can burst a bubble at any time. You can turn a stranger into a friend today.
Nadine Elsayed is a multimedia editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].