“Hi, my name is Gracie. What’s your favourite colour?”
When I was little, this was my go-to phrase when introducing myself to strangers. Like most six-year-olds, I had no fear or hesitation about receiving judgement from others, so it was an easy task to be myself. These days, I long for six-year-old Gracie’s innocence; when I did not have to think twice about the image I was displaying to the world.
This week’s exercise of initiating a conversation with a stranger certainly had me outside of my comfort zone. I tend to avoid encounters with new people, let alone be the one to start them.
My stranger encounter happened when I was walking my dog, Wrigley. Every day on our walk, I pass by the same house where an older man is usually outside working in his garden. Typically, I give a friendly smile or nod and continue with my walk. However, knowing the objective of this week’s assignment, I decided to stop and start a conversation.
“Your garden looks amazing.”, I said to the man. I think he was a bit caught off guard, but he quickly responded with a prideful, “Thank you!”. The man, Bill, and I engaged in conversation for about five minutes that day; talking about our dogs, school, and quarantine lockdown. All previous worries about “what will he think of me?”, were no longer entertained in question. I was in the moment enjoying our encounter.
Since our last conversation, every time I walk past Bill’s house and see him working in the garden, we stop and talk to one another. I genuinely look forward to our interactions.
This exercise has taught me that fear of judgement is the ultimate destroyer of potential relationships. If I had condoned to my previous mindset of worrying what others think, I would have deviated from initiating a conversation with Bill.
Furthermore, this assignment has made me realize that online engagement has rendered me hypersensitive to fear of judgement. Online, I control who views my content, I have time to plan posts or type messages, and build an online presence. The screen provides a barricade of comfort, that if otherwise not there, makes me vulnerable and question other’s thoughts about me.
Overall, my stranger encounter was a success. Not only did my conversation with Bill enlighten me about my online vs. In-person presence, but our interaction has developed into a friendly relationship.