Don’t be a stranger advises this short book on connecting with others.
The publishing imprint of TED Talks offers another in a series of what might be considered self-help books, though world-help might be more in keeping with the ambition of these “small books about big ideas.” Yes, suggests novelist and consultant Stark (Follow Me Down, 2011, etc.), reaching out to others you don’t know, even with a simple “Hello,” will likely make you feel better about yourself and about others—assuming the target of your connection isn’t shocked or offended. Indeed, writes the author, “a shimmer of connection…can also have an effect on the larger political world, leading us away from fear and building toward openness, cooperation, and genuine understanding.” Discomfort and even fear might prevent some from making such connections, and social context plays a significant role as well. Some cultures discourage even making eye contact with those one doesn’t know, let alone initiating conversation. Some differences—gender, race, class, income—can lead to an imbalance that puts more of the power and/or risk on one side than the other. And most of us are fine with what the author terms “civil inattention,” which maintains the illusion of functioning privately or in solitude while in a public place, barely acknowledging the presence of others. “Civil inattention in these situations, the park and the café, the theater and the concert, also amounts to a denial of shared experience,” writes Stark. “Sometimes that’s a terrible loss.” If you let yourself get to know someone of another religion or race or nationality, you have learned to see her as something other than the “other,” and “it opens up your idea of who counts as human.”
Hardly groundbreaking but a pleasant little book about making connections.