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Interact with one stranger today

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According to a 2004 study published in Science, commuting is associated with fewer positive emotions than any other common daily activity. And yet, for those of us who commute on our bikes or by transit we have so many opportunities to interact with strangers.

This article: talks about a number of studies showing that, while our instincts might be to avoid talking to or even looking at strangers, doing so makes us feel better. Interactions with strangers leave us feeling good for some time afterward.



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Stories (5)

  • Jelena Woehr

    I don't have photos of the stranger, but I was hanging around DTLA recently taking an impromptu skate lesson when suddenly a man of about 50 came running out of a parking lot, grabbed my borrowed board, and skated down the road doing all kinds of fancy spins. With a big grin on his face, he came back and handed me the board. He introduced himself as "Godbody," and explained that he grew up in Long Beach, skating in empty swimming pools with those early skaters who fashioned their own boards and made their own skate parks wherever they could find a ledge and a smooth surface.

    Then, Godbody showed me his ID, proving he'd just been released from jail that day after a 17 month sentence. He was disappointed to be out, he said, because the release on a Friday meant he couldn't contact a PO for help getting into safe housing until Monday. He's trying to stay clean, but, in his words, "If I have to stay where people are getting high, I have a couple hundred bucks in my pocket and I'm going to say 'give me some of that.' That's why I don't want to be around people getting high. But if I can't sleep somewhere, I have to stay awake in an all-night diner so they don't throw me out. How do you stay awake all night besides getting high?"

    He said firmly, "I am NOT going back to Skid Row!" then shook his head and gave me a few more tips on skating, then a big hug. He walked away, planning to seek out a female friend who he hoped was still at her former address and still clean. Godbody's last words to me were a promise that he'd "just talk to Allah" if he felt tempted to use.

    I've always been a person who stops to hear strangers' life stories, especially strangers at the margins, but Godbody was especially moving. He's the perfect illustration of one of the principles most important to me: Individuals are typically the leading experts on their own experiences. Godbody knows exactly what he needs to stay clean and out of jail: Safe housing and some distance from old friends who like to get high. It's as simple as that. Because nobody asked him those questions as they released him from jail, he's in a precarious situation. If he'd just been asked what he needed to help himself, he'd have asked to stay in jail for two more days, and he'd have been a lot safer.

    But, of course, if that had happened, he wouldn't have been walking out of a parking lot at the perfect moment to show me some skateboarding tips, smile, laugh, tell me his story, and give me an encouraging hug as I wobbled along on my first day of skating.

  • Jelena Woehr

    I met Peter, of the Czech Republic, and Seong Hoon, of Seoul, South Korea, on my way to Griffith Park Observatory. Peter and Seong Hoon were huddled on Vermont Avenue looking at a mobile phone, and asked me for directions. I invited them to follow me up the shortest way--it cuts through a Los Feliz neighborhood and goes up 212 stairs, but it really is the fastest way to the top!

    They were panting and complaining about the pace I set on the way up, but it was for a reason. We reached the gate to the trails as the park ranger pulled in to lock up for the night. I talked the ranger into letting us through by promising I'd make sure everyone got out. At the time I was thinking I'd just show the gentlemen another way down and then leave them at the Observatory, but after seeing their smiles at the city lights, I had another idea. When they went in to view the Observatory, I offered to wait for them (I had my dog with me so I couldn't go in, but he never minds a rest on the cool grass) and show them my favorite way back.

    They agreed, so I took them up to the top of Mount Hollywood to a scenic overlook where I often sit and meditate at night after a hike. This photo was the result of an attempt to just get a shot of the city lights. I didn't realize until I took it that I had both silhouettes with me.

    On the way down I learned that Seong Hoon is an actor in South Korea who hopes to study and work in the United States for a few years at least, perhaps permanently. Peter is a mechanical engineer and is just on vacation. They are staying with a language school and tour program, where they are roommates. Neither had been to LA before. They were curious about what it's like to be a woman hiking alone often in LA (very pleasant actually) and whether I was a screenwriter (no, but they picked the most likely industry career for me).

    Really loved showing two people new to my beautiful city a view they might not have gotten to experience otherwise. I remember how the city lights of LA first took my breath away just a few months ago. It renews my love for where I live every time I get to see someone see those lights with fresh eyes.

  • Mindy Nguyen

    Before embarking on my way trip to Europe, I made a personal vow to make a new friend every day! Here are my lovely friends I met at a hostel in Copenhagen. Love the fact that they're from all parts of the world - Switzerland, Netherlands/Australia, and... Virginia!

  • Steve Mumford

    While biking down Manhattan's West Side Greenway, I high-fived a line of about 50 delighted school kids out for a field trip to The Intrepid museum. Slap, slap, slap, slap, all in a row. They were giddy with laughter and I felt like a hero.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    I talked to two neighbors I didn't know this weekend. It was refreshing to meet each other face to face and hear why they decided to move in and live on their own. One had just had a breakup and the other was moving in to be closer to his daughter. We're all thinking of forming a phone tree for the building.

    This pic below is my favorite stranger interaction I've ever had. I had just met my good friend's aunt Rosie the night of his wedding and any time there was a funk song playing, we danced and laughed together. She made the wedding so fun. Sometimes it's the strangers that get you out of your comfort zone and let you discover a side of yourself that didn't exist before. We're all strangers at some point and the moment we decide not to be can be pretty transformative.