Do talk to strangers?

Rachel Wood

Column by Rachel Wood, contributing writer

Don’t tell your mom, but I think it might be a good idea for you to talk to strangers.

I remember in the early days of the internet when we were overwhelmed with fears of online predators, we were constantly warned to “only talk to people you know in person” and “never share anything about yourself.”  We were bombarded with these warnings for good reason. Now that we’re older, though, I think it’s time we loosen up a little.

I know social media started out as a way to share our life stories with friends, but these networks have become so much more than that. It’s a place where anyone can share their voice, and I think it’s time to start listening.

You’d be amazed at some of the online communities that are present on the social networks you already use: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. These are great places to discover people that share your interests – but maybe not the exact same opinions.

Let me give you an example: my parents, through Twitter, have become friends with people from roughly twelve different countries. While they all share one common interest – Premier League Football – they each have different cultural, economic and social backgrounds. They can talk about soccer for hours, but these connections also give them the chance to discuss the glaring political situations of the world.

Lately, it seems like our Facebook and Twitter feeds have become places to share our own views on the actions of others and judge our friends for their differing opinions. Maybe it’s time for us to stop talking, and listen instead. Listen to the people you don’t normally listen to. Learn what problems occur in their daily lives, and see how our decisions will affect their world. Though it seems like we don’t want to admit it, the United States is not the center of the world.

Our generation is more globally connected than any generation before us, so what’s stopping us from learning about other cultures? Is it fear of what we don’t understand or fear that we might be proved wrong? I love being right just as much as anyone else, but maybe “I told you so” isn’t the response we should be begging to say right now.

This week, see if you can interact with someone online that has a different background than your own. And I’m not talking about that one kid from your high school that has some weird theories about gluten – that’s too easy. Go out and find someone who is truly different from you, whether in race, sexuality or religious background. The internet should make this an easy thing to do.

Don’t simply do it to state why you think their opinions are wrong; listen and try to empathize instead. It’s amazing how easy that can be when you can reread and really take in what someone has to say.

So, while we’re making a pretty big decision within the next few days, remember this is a choice that doesn’t just affect you. It affects everyone else, too. In the words of John Green, “There is no them. There are only facets of us.” Don’t forget that we’re all just human beings in the end.