The movie opens on a shot of a woman walking through a quaint village of cobbled alleys and charming shops. As she makes her way along the street, she is greeted by passersby and greets them in return.
She pauses to exchange a friendly word with a shopkeep who knows her name, inquires after her mother, and asks if she’d like her usual order. Her path intersects with the postman, who digs into his satchel to pull out her letters. A small boy on a bicycle nearly runs over her toes in his haste to catch up with his friends. He shouts an apology over his shoulder as she calls after him in good-natured exasperation.
It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
The scene could play out a thousand other ways. A young man walking down a city street calling out to friends and family on front stoops. An elderly couple making small talk with strangers as they meander slowly through a park on their evening constitutional.
What these scenes have in common is that they highlight how small, casual connections create a comforting sense of community.
It’s easy to underestimate the power of small kindnesses—of connecting with another human being who is neither family nor exactly a friend—to enrich our lives and improve our sense of wellbeing.
But the truth is that these often underappreciated moments can make a big difference.
In her New York Times piece, “The Benefit of Talking to Strangers,” Jane E. Brody relates how unremarkable encounters with “strangers” add variety to her life and provide emotional support.
She quotes a passage from the book “Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don’t Seem to Matter … But Really Do” by Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman—“Consequential strangers anchor us in the world and give us a sense of being plugged into something larger.”
Feeling anchored and plugged in is something everyone needs right now as we continue living through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended life as we know it and stolen most of our opportunities for human connection.
But just because we have to wear masks and social distance doesn’t mean we have to forgo the small-but-beneficial (to both parties) joys of sparking friendly conversations with everyone from the barista who makes your coffee to the person who checks you out at the grocery store to the complete stranger walking their dog. In fact, it may be more important than ever to make the effort.
Also cited in the New York Times article is researcher Katherine L. Fiori from Adelphi University. Fiori, who studies the social networks of older adults, found that it’s actually the activities that support the “weaker ties” formed with casual acquaintances (rather than the deeper ones formed with family and close friends) that deliver greater satisfaction with life as well as improved emotional and physical health.
It takes so little to improve someone’s life—yours or a stranger’s. A bit of eye contact, a kind word, or a little banter about the latest hit show or great read can do more than you know.
And what if you took it a tiny step further?
- What if you sent a handwritten note to your hairdresser thanking them for years of making you feel fabulous?
- What if you brought the folks who pump your gas a box of fresh donuts?
- What if you invited the widow who sits near you in church to chat over a video call?
You might be amazed at how much you can change someone’s day, or even their life, with just a small gesture of kindness.
Sometimes, just acknowledging a person is enough. And, as a bonus, each time you make this kind of connection, you’re benefiting, too. You’re creating your own community of kindness.
Valentine’s Day is coming up. This might be the perfect opportunity to practice the art of connecting with consequential strangers. After all, Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be just for lovers. Go ahead and spread the love however you like.