A few nights ago, I dreamt a stranger wanted to stick a large pin in my eye. When I went to Robarts the next day, I learned that strangers are usually not crazy people who point pins in your eyes. I helped a Chinese man who had come to Canada recently. His English was quite good, but he needed help to phone Immigration Canada to get a form to help his wife come here. I also helped him with letters that he was writing for graduate school applications, and with his resume. He thanked me and offered to buy me dinner for my assistance. I declined, but his kindness struck me. After this experience, I thought to myself about our relationships with strangers. Are we as nice as we should be? Should we take more chances with people we barely know?

Unfortunately, our culture has taught us to fear strangers because they could be murderers, rapists, or escaped mental patients. This could be true, but most people are quite normal and probably would not mind talking to a perfectly nice person on the subway or on the street. In fact, I personally hate the silence on the subway and I wish that more people would take the time to say hello to their fellow Torontonians.

For example, when I was on the subway a little while ago, a student came on and asked another man to move so he could sit down. The man obliged and the student said thank you. When the man left, I sat next to the student. I sneezed and he said, “bless you,” which took me by surprise since no one has ever said “bless you” on a subway. After this, I nudged the student and started talking to him. I found out his name was Paul and that he’s studying to be a chef. He told me he wants to make people happy through his cooking, and to open up his own restaurant some day. Before we got off, he said people should never lose their vision of the world, since this is so valuable to those around them. I felt quite happy after this experience because I learned that perfect strangers can teach you things that can help you on life’s journey, which can enrich life in ways never thought possible.

It’s odd to think that we were all strangers once until someone took a chance and befriended us. Talking to strangers is a worthwhile exercise that will make our society a friendlier place. So, go against everything everyone’s ever told you—don’t avoid strangers like the plague. Take the time, say hello, and maybe ask them how they’re doing. I dare you.

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