Early this morning (Er, like, 3am early) I couldn’t sleep, all courtesy of a bit too much of the Camembert cheese and spicy sausage we had for dinner last night; so rather than lie still wide awake for the next few hours, I surrendered to this bout of insomnia and did what every one else does whenever they can’t sleep… I went on Facebook! Once I’d finished “liking” all the usual cat pictures and silly joke posts that seem to show up each day from the same 2 people (You know who you are!) I noticed a recommendation that was quite unique, and that really caught my attention and interest: It was a new FB page called “The Stranger Project 2014” – and it looked so intriguing, I immediately clicked over to check it out.
What I discovered was a remarkable page (only 9 days old!) all about connecting with strangers, one every single day over the entire year; hence the name “The Stranger Project 2014”! It’s the brainchild of a gentleman named Colin Easton, whom we get to know a little bit about in the short CTV interview in which he discusses his idea to meet and connect with strangers, one each and every single day of 2014. I found the timing of this discovery quite serendipitous; why just last week I did a post about six basic communication skills specifically those designed to talk with strangers, and so now I was extra-intrigued!
Since davidknappfisher.com is all about meeting people and connection I sent Colin a quick message asking if he’d allow me to share his story on my blog, you know, in the hope it would inspire other people to also be open to his idea of approaching strangers – and was thrilled when he replied just a few hours later, and was gave me the lowdown on his unique – and fun – social experiment. Here are a few highlights and ideas from our conversation.
Who is Colin?
Colin Easton settled back in Vancouver in 2006 from the island to find work in his field of computer technology (he has a degree in Applied Communication from Camosun College) and in his spare time, loves his hobby as a recreational photographer. Upon arriving in Vancouver, Colin was able to reconnect with an old friend who is also happens to be into photography, particularly taking photos of the often forgotten residents of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. It was while spending time together Colin noticed two things about his friend’s approach with his photography subjects that moved him; first, he was totally unbiased and didn’t judge his subjects, despite many being “down and out”; and secondly, he always left them by saying “We’re friends now, so next time we meet you must say hi to me”. There was something about these simple exchanges that expressed both friendship and dignity for both parties, and left each side feeling good. Colin began to wonder how he could incorporate these deliberately human traits in his own life, and build a photography project of his own around them.
He had a couple of ideas, the first being to write a “Haiku” (A style of Japanese poem) each week, but after 4 or 5 weeks decided this wasn’t the right way to go. Another was something he called “Project 365”, a project he’d tackled before, in which he’d take and display unique photographs, one each day, on a website for a full year. As a photographer this idea made the most sense, but didn’t quite seem to incorporate the “human-connection” element he’d become so attracted to. And then it hit him: What, he wondered, would happen if he used his friend’s kind approach with strangers, the calendar year timeline of Project 365 and finally his love of photography, and mixed them all in together? He gave it a whirl, came up with a framework, and on Jan 1st, 2014, “The Stranger Project 2014” was born!
The Stranger Project 2014
The premise is simple: Every single day this year Colin will approach random people in wide open spaces (and with no bias in gender, race, social economic position, etc.) and asks them one simple opening question: “Hi! Would you mind talking to me for a minute and sharing your story with me?” Those who agree not only get to tell him their story, but they also get their picture taken and both are then posted to the Facebook / Instagram / Tumblr pages “The Stranger Project 2014” for all to see and share. Please note that Colin also updates his Twitter account frequently and all links are available at the end of the post.
And being seen and shared they are! When I connected with Colin on Day 19, his Facebook “likes” had jumped from 200 to almost 1,000 in 3 days, and are growing by the hour! This was right after he interviewed and connected with Graham, an actor and musician who was out on a morning jaunt to grab some beverages. Graham was extremely open to Colin’s questions, and in turn shared some really poignant details about his life, his family and “the biggest mistake and waste of money” he ever made – a fun story that he tells with a chuckle. By the time they’ve walked and talked all the way back to Graham’s home, they’ve made a genuine connection, and Colin has an open invitation to “drop in and listen to some music” next time he’s in the neighborhood! And that is the real power of what Colin is doing with The Stranger Project 2014; he’s expanding not only his world, but other peoples as well; all just by saying “Hello” to complete strangers.
I must say, I really admire Colin’s simple, organic approach to meeting people; he is very careful not to bother anyone, and really makes a point to only engage with folks who want to be engaged with. But here’s the thing: He’s also discovering just how many interesting people really do want to be engaged and tell their stories; and once they do, he finds them eager to talk, especially when there’s a person willing to genuinely listen to what they have to say. Colin believes this is because (in his words) “Everyone has a unique story to tell”, and with The Stranger Project 2014 he’s given these people a terrific forum to speak, and share their amazing life stories for the rest of us to enjoy. Thanks Colin!
Colin’s Tips for Engagement
I asked Colin for his best tips on talking to strangers; here’s what he said:
- Be aware of the environment you are in, and make sure it is conducive to making any subject you want to approach feel safe. Daytime is obviously best, and in areas where there are a lot of people around
- Ask politely if you may talk with someone; if they say no, or look at all uncomfortable at your request, politely let them get on their way. This style of approach isn’t for everyone, and that fact needs to be respected
- When people do agree to talk, ask good questions, and then let them answer. Colin says one of the best feelings he gets is when other people feel comfortable sharing their stories, and loves how this allows him to make those “instant” connections with people who clearly want to have them
- Above all, be respectful and genuine in your words, deed and communication
I’d really like to thank Colin for both his time, and for starting this excellent project that really helps connect people; his project 2014 reminds us that strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet. As for Colin, he still has 347 new friends to make before this year is up, but somehow I believe he’ll more than double that number! Make sure you check out his links below, and I’m sure that you too, will become intrigued by (and possibly addicted to) by “The Stranger Project 2014”, just as I have.
Readers, have you ever been approached by a perfect stranger who wound up being a great friend? Do you have any suggestions on how to meet people that you would like to share? Please put them in the comments below!