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Life in Retirement: Time to talk to strangers


Ah, a brand new year is underway! A clean slate, an opportunity to pledge to do something better, an annual chance to nag yourself to finally follow through on a New Year’s Resolution (do people still make those?) How about trying something a bit different this time around – how about making a commitment to talk to strangers!

A campaign is gaining momentum in its effort to ‘be part of the solution to the social isolation, disconnection and loneliness that we face in Canada an around the world today.’ The GenWell Project launched in 2016 to educate, empower and catalyze Canadians about the many benefits of Talking to Strangers. ‘For decades we have told Canadians and people around the world not to talk to strangers, when the research suggests that it may be a valuable way to increase happiness, feel a greater sense of belonging, build trust and create safer communities,’ their website reads.

I was chatting about this with one of my oldest childhood friends, when we had a rare visit a few weeks ago. It was actually during Talk to Strangers Week – yes, there is one but we missed it because it’s in late November. I could very nearly classify my friend as a stranger at times in my life, when several decades had passed when we weren’t in touch at all. Still, we shared plenty of school-day shenanigans and even shared our first apartment together, so when life circumstances brough us in touch again a few years ago we jumped at it.

As we enjoyed our lunch in Calgary, it became clear that she embraces the big city amenities that seem foreign to me now. Walking to the nearest C-train station to commute to her job downtown, which she has had for over 35 years! Chatting with people along the way – some she sees every day and others are new faces, but all are strangers. She enjoys this and seeks it out, unlike a more common approach which is to keep to ourselves and avoid eye contact whenever possible.

She has met many interesting people and has overheard fascinating conversations as strangers chat amongst themselves. On her way to work that morning, she watched as a young man boarded the train and sat beside a middle-aged man in front of her, even though there were plenty of empty seats. He was obviously geared to connect with someone, as was the fellow he sat beside. They struck up a conversation about how difficult it is to know what to major in (young man) and how important it is to follow your heart (older man, who has been a bartender for his whole life and loves it). They kind of inspired and supported one another, and in turn my friend who was uplifted by hearing the conversation. Then they all went their separate ways, but with a bit of a spring in their step.

That’s when I told her I had just heard a radio interview about Talking to Strangers and that her story was a perfect example of what their Human Connection Movement is all about. When I look back at my life and think of all kinds of wonderful things that transpired because of random chats with strangers, I’m not sure when (or why) I lost that stranger-mojo. Think of all the people you know whose long and happy marriages began when they met at a concert or a curling bonspiel. Who is to say the next person you chat with won’t bring untold wonder into your life? At the very least, they might bring a few minutes of distraction in an otherwise unremarkable day.

No one is suggesting you drop your guard and put yourself in an unsafe situation, and never reveal your personal information. But maybe trust your instincts when it comes to in-person interactions and say a friendly hello to the stranger beside you if the situation feels right. You could make a new friend!

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