Every friend you’ve ever had was once a stranger.
In Kindergarten, for the most part, everyone was friends. On the playground we could find a friend on the swings by simply stating our name and asking the other person to play. Making a new friend was sometimes as easy as sharing an interest in glitter, dinosaurs, or a favorite color.
As adults, sometimes making friends seems scarier and much more difficult.
Is there a way to build community and friendships as adults that’s less intimidating, like it was on the playground?
Remember this: Every friend we’ve ever had was once a stranger.
Every friend you’ve ever had was once a stranger. Not only history, but stereotypes, too, have emphasized NOT to talk to strangers, at least to some degree. Most big cities have reputations for avoiding eye contact on the sidewalk, earbuds are in most ears on public transportation, and cars and online shopping have made it possible for neighbors to avoid contact for days.
Sadly, the phrase, “Stranger Danger,” caught on more than it should have: considering everyone we don’t know as “stranger danger,” first, instead of someone with a story, a person to be known. It’s set up society to see people as “other,” and when it comes to the “Golden Rule,” fueling the us vs. them vibe doesn’t really work if we were designed to live in community.
And that, matched with backyard fences, polarizing politics and religions, fear of cultural differences, major life transitions, busy schedules, and silly things like opposing sports rivalries, have driven even bigger wedges into building community.
Why do we even need community? What’s the point of connecting with people when we’re constantly connected online with anyone and everyone? Or at least connected within our circles or tribes?
Just like a body is made up of many unique and different parts, so is a healthy community. If a group of friends, a church body, even a workplace, were all made up of the same people with the same strengths and interests, how would it thrive?
Maybe we know WHY we need community, but how the heck do we build it? It can be scary talking to people we don’t know! Being the new girl at work, in the neighborhood, to town, at the party, etc, can make a girl want to stay home in comfies with a good book or Netflix.
How on earth do you strike up conversation with a complete stranger? Eeeek!
BEING VULNERABLE IS VULNERABLE, but here are some tips and tools to help you build connections with people you already know, and with complete strangers who may just end up being your people:
- Remember we all have a story. 7 billion people on earth are here at the same time, trying to figure out life through unique perspectives. Remembering this will level the playing field.
- Ask yourself, “How would that make me feel?” This question invokes empathy, so if you apply it to a setting where you see someone alone at a party or who is new to town, simply introduce yourself and let them know you’re willing to show them around.
- How do you introduce yourself to a stranger? Walk up, SMILE, stick out your hand and tell them your name. It’s crazy, but you’ll find that the other person is usually relieved someone else took that first step.
- Then what? What the heck do you say once you’ve said, “Hello!” That’s the fun part! When we remember everyone has a story, asking questions that invite the other person to share can help us learn how unique we all are and how everyone sees or experiences the world differently.
- Ask questions that go beyond “yes” or “no,” or one word, answers.
- Ask questions to truly learn about someone else: what’s their name? Where are they from? What could they spend hours talking about? If they have/could travel, where have they gone?
- “Help me understand,” and “Tell me more about that,” are great ways to be present in a conversation in a posture of learning. We may not agree with the other person’s stance, but trying to understand the world through their perspective can diffuse a lot of misunderstandings and challenge us to grow.
- Go “two or three deep” on a question, so instead of just saying, “Where are you from?” you could also ask, “How long have you lived here?,” “What are some of your favorite things about living here?,” and, “How has the move to *Nashville been for you?”
To learn more ways to build community and strike up meaningful conversations, head to www.adriennegraves.com for resources and to join the conversation.
*Photo by Christy Shaterian Photography