In theory, I’m a prime candidate for being a total loner.
I’m an introvert. I work from home and I love to read. I have strong, controversial opinions that often challenge people. And sometimes, I feel like my AirPods are an extension of my body.
Despite all this, I’ve learned to love meeting new people.
I like to assume every stranger has good intentions (until proven otherwise). I like to hear their stories, uncover commonalities, and learn from our differences.
My wife likes to tease me that I’m like our dog — I greet, compliment, or joke with complete strangers in public. (It’s also one of the things she loves most about my personality.)
And lately I’ve been thinking, why do I do this?
I’ve realized: it makes me incredibly happy to brighten other people’s days.
When I go out, I want to put a smile on someone’s face. I know how amazing it feels when someone shows me warmth or compassion, and I want to pay it forward.
In turn, this encourages people to reciprocate that kind of behavior back to me. I get to see the most generous side of people and walk away with a true appreciation for the kindness of strangers.
I believe those experiences play a CRUCIAL role in my day-to-day fulfillment.
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Automation Is Leading To More Isolation
This positive outlook on social interaction wasn’t something that came naturally to me. I had to work on it until it became a habit that I genuinely got excited about.
I choose to make a conscious effort because I know how easy it is to feel isolated.
For many of us, we can go through our entire week without talking to any strangers. Or at least in any way more than a quick hello, thank you, and goodbye.
Because of the confidential nature of my business, I take phone and video calls from the comfort of my home. I get Whole Foods groceries delivered straight to my door from Amazon, same day, at no extra cost. If I don’t want to cook, Uber Eats brings me hot food without having to speak to anyone.
And then when I have to venture out to somewhere in-person, everything’s being built to avoid human interaction.
There are self-serve gas stations, ATMs, and checkout machines. There are self-serve fast food kiosks and mobile order pickups in their own far off corner of stores and restaurants. I used to have to meet someone off of Craigslist to sell my used electronics; now I ship them across the country using Swappa.
Soon, I’ll walk into a supermarket, grab stuff off the shelf, and walk out without even needing to make eye contact with another human — thanks to tech like Amazon’s new Go Stores.
These advancements are incredible. They’ve made our life much easier in many ways but they aren’t without their consequences.
Because now, we not only experience less human interaction, but a lot of our encounters with strangers are seen in a negative light. And so every day, we can’t wait to retreat back into our safe digital worlds.
It’s Easy To Hate When You Don’t Feel Connected
We read emotionally manipulative articles and watch sensationalized videos that make us resent half of the population for being different. We see vitriolic social media comments that bring out the worst in people. We endure ignored messages and cold rejections on dating apps which make us feel worthless, and make others seem heartless.
This creates a negative feedback loop which tells us we should fear and avoid most strangers.
We think they’re mean, hateful, and dumb. That feedback loop convinces us to keep avoiding new people and act coldly towards them.
But we need positive real-world interactions with new people.
And yes, even if you’re an introvert, this is essential to your fulfillment and sense of belonging.
Those casual interactions help us feel connected to one another. They build empathy. They remind us that many people do have good hearts and good intentions.
When we see strangers whose smiles reach their eyes, it destroys all the bullshit we perpetuate about them. We can finally see that it’s possible to get along with many people, despite our differences.
Most of all, these experience forge new connections we never thought possible.
When you isolate yourself, you miss out on all that goodness. You’re stuck telling yourself stories about how shitty and callous everyone is and you might prove yourself right.
We are born to support our fellow humans.
For millennia, we’ve formed tribes and tight-knit communities. We’ve helped our neighbors. We’ve created friendly social gatherings and met people face-to-face.
Today is no different. We’re still on the same path of being social creatures — human evolution takes thousands upon thousands of years to change, not decades.
A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way
I know reaching out to a random person might seem hard. Maybe you struggle with social anxiety and aren’t used to approaching new people.
But it’s much simpler to get started than you think.
Just wait for a natural opportunity to be kind without any other expectation.
We often feel social anxiety when we’re worried about obtaining a certain external outcome. So if you’re focused on gaining someone’s approval, getting a number, or avoiding rejection — it will terrify you.
I want you to do the exact opposite of all that.
I don’t want you to plan ways to make people laugh. I don’t want you target specific women that you want to impress. I don’t want you to set arbitrary benchmarks of how many people you have to help.
Doing this trains you to always perform for others and worry about being “good enough”. Then, it’s about you rather than about giving to other people.
Instead, I want you to go about your days exactly as you already do. Then when you encounter a situation where you see someone you could help or be kind to — act on that impulse.
Maybe you hold the door for someone or let an older person go ahead of you in line. Maybe you see someone carrying a large box and offer to lend a hand. Maybe you notice a well-spoken classmate and want to let them know you think they’re crushing it. Maybe the cashier’s computer freezes and instead of rolling your eyes, you make a funny comment to ease the tension.
These opportunities should occur organically in the spur-of-the-moment — a true random act of kindness regardless of what you can receive in return.
You have that capability because it’s hard coded in all of us.
If you still need further help to not worry about external validation or being judged, keep it simple…
Be kind to someone who doesn’t intimidate you rather than someone you’re attracted to. Be kind in passing so you aren’t pressured to hold a conversation. Act generous when there’s only a few people around so you don’t stress about unwanted attention.
Soon, you’ll see how many people not only appreciate your kindness, but are excited to return it. You’ll create a positive feedback loop with experiences that motivate you to keep spreading goodness. Before you know it, you’ll be dishing out kindness without even thinking about it.
You’ll make other people happy and feel happier because of it.
Hopefully, you’ll inspire someone else to give a piece of their heart to another stranger. And maybe the world will be a little better for it.