Why ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’ Is Actually Terrible Advice

We’ve all heard it. Whether it was warned to us by our parents, our siblings, our grandparents, or even our teachers. A simple warning made out of their desire to protect us. Four words that when combined in a sentence rushed caution through our veins. As overused as “look both ways before crossing the road,” or “make sure to use the buddy system”, the gold medal for over caution has definitely been earned by the phrase:

“DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS.”

In a society where each morning we wake up to the news of a new shooting or terror threat, it IS a fair statement to make. Who could blame a parent for wanting to shield their child from danger? We all know children are expensive and according to the wise words my father once told me after asking if I could travel alone to Colombia… “I have invested too much money in you. You dead is nothing but a negative ROI.“ Thanks Dad.

With all that being said, I’m here to crush our parent’s beliefs that if you don’t know what elementary school a person attended, along with the name of their second cat, avoid conversation at all costs. Yes, I am an advocate for ensuring one takes the necessary precautions, but at the same time I can honestly admit that some of the most interesting and amazing people I have met have been strangers that I just struck up a conversation with.

Whether it is asking for suggestions when traveling or hearing about a cool job opportunity someone came across, every conversation can be a lesson. In a society where reading for fun or to learn has become non-existent, generations are becoming more ignorant. The excuse, “I don’t have time,” is the reason most of us provide as to why we don’t keep up with current events. So why not kill two birds with one stone? Why not make a friend and learn something while doing so. I’m not saying that you should talk to a stranger with the expectation that they are going to teach you to code a website in a conversation. That’s completely unrealistic. But you’d be surprised what you can take away from a conversation.

“Where are you heading back from?” “Oh, there’s a documentary film festival in town!” BAM, you have just figured out what you are doing this weekend.

As cool as you may think you are, there is always someone cooler. That may sound like an awfully pessimistic statement to make, but I like to think it has a more “motivational Mary” twist to it than “negative Nancy”. We all have amazing stories and experiences, and are just waiting to share them with someone. Psychologists tell us that people love to talk about themselves, and I do believe there’s truth to that statement. But at the same time, I also believe that people love to listen. Skeptical? Think of it this way: when you are looking for a new restaurant, chances are you may Google for recommendations. How do you choose to narrow down your options? You read customer reviews. I have always found it hypocritical that we downplay face-to-face “stranger” interaction, yet we have been socialized to interact with strangers online on a daily basis. It’s human nature to trust others and to want to listen to them. So why not talk to that stranger instead of typing?

Try it out for yourself.

The next time you’re on a flight and someone takes the seat beside you, instead of ignoring them from the moment you take off, introduce yourself. You never know what can spiral from a simple “Hello”.  You’d be surprised how responsive people can be to an introduction. Often, people DO want to talk, they’re just hesitant to make the first move. That person could end up working in the same industry as you and develop into a client or an investor. You could be looking for work, and they happen to work for a company that is recruiting. That person a may be resident of wherever you are visiting and have some amazing recommendations for great restaurants. Or, the Hollywood fairytale result, it could be love at first sight and you two end up happily married. Smile at that stranger, because 9 times out of 10, there’s actually nothing strange about them.

Featured image via Brandon Woelfel.

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