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Why You Should Try To Have Random Interactions With Strangers

Is it possible to restore equilibrium to a wounded humanity single-handed?

12/03/2017 01:42 SAST | Updated 12/03/2017 01:46 SAST
ampak via Getty Images
"A meaningful human transaction, however small, is a peaceful retaliation against the pervasive threat of cynicism and mistrust."

The news forecast does not look good. Most of the country is covered in drizzly patches of wearisome, insipid politicking broken only by inclement downpours of sensationalised scandal. Feeling deflated by national affairs I seek shelter in the world section of the paper, hoping for something a little more temperate... perhaps an uplifting vitamin D kind of story that boosts your daily level of optimism like the Can-do council recommends. But all I find is disaster with an accent.

When we're held hostage by fear and a general state of resignation, finding and fostering moments of casual inclusivity becomes even more important. These kind of transactions endorse optimism as an important social currency we should all trade in on a daily basis. Delightfully odd and/or spontaneous conversations on public transport. Random acts of kindness worthy of attaining folkloric status. And despite a chaotic world order I'd like to think we're all capable of finding our inner streetcar -- the ability to see strangers as potential friends.

These kind of transactions endorse optimism as an important social currency we should all trade in on a daily basis.

So I'm sponsoring an orang-utan in Borneo, purchased an Oxfam donkey last Christmas and signed my middle-class guilt away on innumerable petitions. But is it possible to restore equilibrium to a wounded humanity single-handed? While it's all a contribution of sorts, no donkey is going to stop ISIS in its tracks.

The new goal is to boost goodwill on the ground with a counter crusade called UIIP: Unplanned Interaction with an Interesting Person (interchangeable with insightful or inspiring). It's not the most revolutionary of movements, but a meaningful human transaction, however small, is a peaceful retaliation against the pervasive threat of cynicism and mistrust. Share ideas, ideals, listen more, dismiss less, offer a seat, hold open a door, forget to document the moment on social media and just live it in real time.

I was primed for my first UIIP the other day when a smiling elderly man approached me in a chemist. "This is it," I thought. The moment when a stranger becomes a friend. He gently placed a hand on my shoulder and leaned in: "Could you leave your umbrella by the door? You're a walking puddle." Not quite the warm and fuzzy vibe I was angling for.

Never discount your ability to reconnect and positively influence someone else's day.

But the next week it got better, largely because I visited my mum in hospital (go with me here). On parking I realised I've taken the bag without my wallet. AlI I found in the glove box is a Fijian currency one-dollar coin and a lint-covered gummy bear.

Then my kid was pulling his pants down to do a wee on the curb, perilously close to traffic. "Good luck with that," comments a passer-by as he hands over his still-valid parking ticket before driving off. Again, not the profound exchange I was imagining but a goal for humanity nonetheless.

Amid the downpour of despair it's hard to clear the whinge screen wipers. But never discount your ability to reconnect and positively influence someone else's day.


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