Stranger danger


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Being around strangers is stressful. Studies show that it causes our stress hormone, cortisol, to go up. But why? And how do we overcome it?

There are a couple of reasons for this reaction.

As humans we have lived for thousands of years within small, protective communities. Historically what we’ve been doing is protecting our community and resources. We fear strangers attacking that. In smaller communities even today, the fear and suspicion of strangers remains. That’s why when you see films where a stranger walks into a small town, the town-folk all look upon the outsider with wariness or even outright spite. “You ain’t from around here boy!”

A second reason is society’s labelling of strangers as being dangerous. We’re taught “stranger danger” from the time we were kids. And we’re taught it for good reason. It’s easy though to transition from childhood to adulthood and lose context.

Media’s portrayal of “strangers” in cinema and on TV is a third reason. We see the extras on the train or bus as being the ones we need to be wary of.

None of this is necessarily unjustified but it also misses out on teaching about the value there is in engaging with people who we haven’t met yet. We forget that most people in the world share human values. We forget that there are people who we haven’t met that can teach us. We forget that there are valuable networks that can be expanded through simple dialogue with a stranger.

Instead we get nervous and awkward and at best engage in tepid, small talk about the weather.

Here are 5 tips

Simply say “Hi”

Or “Good morning,” “Afternoon” “Hey mate” etc.  This is the obvious icebreaker but if it isn’t said early, time will pass, and it will become super awkward to suddenly break out a “How’s it going?” after 5 minutes.

It’s rare that someone won’t respond to a friendly “hello” which means that normally, that simple greeting has initiated a dialogue.

Ask a Question to Get Them Talking About Themselves

You’re on a holiday meeting another tourist? 

“Where are you from?”

That one can roll into everything from travel talk to talk about occupation and more.

You’re at a school event?

“You’ve got kids here? What year are they in?”

If you start someone talking about their kids, and especially if you’ve got that in common, you’re on a back and forth conversational winner.

Just Open Your Mouth. It’s Not Just There for Eating!

Hesitating leads to overthinking which leads to ruminating which leads to a disabled tongue.

Who cares if things turn awkward? A simple, “I’ll catch you around some time,” is an easy out. Even if you’ll never actually “catch them around sometime.”

Don’t Fret Over What Someone Will Think of You

A few years ago my wife and I were in Malaysia with our oldest daughter who was 14 at the time. We went to the market with a friend who was a local. He said to her, “Come with me, I’ll show you how to haggle. Then you can come back and show your parents.” So off they went. She told us about the experience. At first, she was really concerned about embarrassing herself. She was worried about what others would think. Our friend asked her,

“What’s the chances of you coming back here soon?”

“Quite low, we live in Australia.”

“Right. I come here often. They may recognise me but still, they deal with hundreds of people a day. They’ll go home thinking less about you than you are thinking about this moment right now. Just go for it!”

So she did, and the more she did it the bolder she got.

So it is with talking to strangers. The more you do it, the bolder you’ll get.

Why this blog topic on a Wedding Celebrancy site? 

If you’re getting married, unless you grew up with each other from day dot, chances are the person you are marrying was a stranger at one point. Imagine if you hadn’t opened your mouth? Of course, you’re not going to marry every stranger you say hello to, that would be weird, but how many great relationships are you missing out on by not saying “hi”?

Maybe you’re planning on becoming a registered Marriage Celebrant. You’re going to be meeting strangers as a part of your occupation.

Word of mouth is the best form of advertising, right? Make sure the word is coming from your own mouth as well as from the lips of others.

Weddings? Full of family and friends but also a healthy sprinkling of people who you’ve never met.

This is not “4 Tips on how to Become a Gregarious, Talkative Extrovert,” and that’s not the goal for those more inclined to keep to themselves. The idea is to realise that there is much to be gained by engaging a little more and a little better with those we are in the company of for the first time.

As the great Maya Angelo said, “A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.”

Speaking of becoming a registered marriage celebrant, have you talked to us yet about why that could be a great move for you? Rose Training is Australia’s leading Marriage Celebrancy course provider and we are ready to take your call and answer your questions.