Remember growing up we were always told not to talk to strangers? Obviously this was (and still is) sage advice for little kids when it comes to strangers who (a) might approach them in playgrounds or while walking home from school or (b) try to involve them in inappropriate behaviours; because of their age and innocence, this kind of advice will always be important. But what about when those kids grow up and become adults? At some point they need to begin talking to “strangers”, whether it be when meeting a new boss or work colleague, being introduced to “a friend of a friend”, or maybe even saying “Hello” to somebody they see everyday at social settings where strangers tend to gather. And with all these opportunities to meet new people, you’d think breaking down the “Stranger Barrier” would be a fairly common thing, right?
You would, but it’s not; in fact, unless they are “forced” to do so, most folks will actually go out of their way not to introduce themselves to strangers. It’s true; most people will do all they can to avoid talking to strangers, usually out of some kind of fear, insecurity or social awkwardness, and would much rather sit silently, waiting (and praying) for the time to pass until they or the stranger gets up and goes away, and the “uncomfortable silence” they were forced to endure for the past 2o minutes go with them.
But here’s the thing: Ignoring these opportunities to connect with “strangers” might – and often will – rob folks from connecting with some amazing, incredible – and often life changing – people! The way I see it, saying “Hello” first is akin to unlocking a door to discover what kind of world (person) is behind it, and if you don’t take a chance to say “Hi!”, you won’t know what (or whom) you’re missing! But for a lot of people, this first step takes guts, and they are simply too scared to take it. Well I’m here to say “TAKE THAT FIRST STEP!”, and here’s why: Because once that initial connection is made, there’s no telling the amazing and interesting people who might enter into – and change – your life. Here’s what I’m talking about:
About 18 month ago Paula and I were travelling by train up to to see Machu Piccu, which I assumed was going to be the best possible that that would happen to me that day; how could it not be? It’s Machu Piccu, and yes, it was incredible! But it wasn’t the only incredible highlight of the trip, as you will soon discover. The train was pretty full that day, and we had to sit separately. Once we got Paula settled, I found an empty seat next to a couple of gentleman and a young boy who was about 8 years old. “May I sit here?” I asked, as any polite Canadian traveller would expected to do; and the ruggedly handsome man sitting next to the young lad said “Yes, but just so you know we don’t talk to strangers”… Just kidding!” His comment was an awesome ice-breaker, and we all laughed as I sat down and got settled in.
I introduced myself, and then in turn this friendly man introduced himself, and his party: “Hi! I’m J.D. Lewis, this is our friend David, my son Buck, and over there is my other son Jackson” he said, waving to a young man 3 seats over, who briefly looked up, smiled and waved back before returning to his book. Eager to keep the conversation going, I asked “So, first time in Peru?” fully expecting to hear a predictable, run of the mill answer – something like “Yes, we’ve always wanted to see Machu Picchu” or “It’s a bucket list thing”, etc. But their answer was anything but predictable; in fact, what they said truly changed my perspective on how I viewed the world, my life, and what people – including me – are capable of. And for the next two hours I sat spellbound and listened to this incredible family’s story.
J.D. explained that both Buck and Jackson were his sons, both whom he adopted not long after their respected births, and raised them as a single parent. When Jackson (the eldest son) was about 14 he came to his dad with a question that to me, seem far more mature than his years; he said something along the lines that as Americans their family had so much, and lived so well, and was there any way they could give back to less fortunate people around the world? (Yeah, I know – at 14 years old all I cared about was earning enough money to buy chips and pop and go to the movies – but then, Buck and Jackson aren’t your typical kids)
J.D. and the boys thought seriously about this question, and came up with an answer that was so big, so huge, so titanic in proportion, that most people would back away at the mere thought of such an massive undertaking; but the Lewis lads clearly aren’t most people, and so they agreed to move forward on it. And with that, they began to design, create and implement the “Twelve in Twelve Foundation”: a 12 month trek around the world, in order to visit 12 countries and do philanthropic work at each one. J.D. knew this epic journey would both satisfy his son’s hunger for giving back on a global scale, and give his boys an education they’d never get sitting behind a desk in a cramped classroom -he figured they could either read about the Peruvian Incas, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the penguins of Antarctica, the Taj Mahal, etc. etc. or they could go to these places and experience them in person – all while making each corner just a little bit better while they were there; and this was exactly what they were doing.
It was month 10 of their epic journey, and for the next couple of hours I listened to amazing stories about the incredible countries they’d been to, saw photos of the astonishing things they’d seen, the people they were helping, etc. and couldn’t believe my ears; for an adventurist traveller, meeting people who shared the exact same philosophies and passions as me, but who also had the guts to make them happen on a mammoth scale – it was totally awe-inspiring. I was especially taken by J.D.’s commitment and passion as a father to give this incredible gift to his sons – it aligned completely with what I’ve tried to accomplish with my own son by taking him to 10 countries around the world, (most prior to him becoming wheelchair bound) and I could see similarities between him and the Lewis boys from a maturity perspective; and isn’t that sense of purpose, commitment and dedication what we sign up for when we become parents?
The train finally arrived at Machu Piccu, and we went our separate ways, disappearing into the centuries old Inca ruins; and although we ran into them a few times over the next 24 hours, we didn’t actually get to see the Lewis family again on our trip. Fortunately I had the insight to get their contact info before leaving the train, and one home, stayed in touch by phone, email, as well as getting regular updates from their blog. It was there where I learned that upon returning to America, The Huffington Post named them “American Heroes” and asked J.D. to write about their adventures and organization. Not one to sit back and relax, J.D. was soon back at it, taking “Twelve in Twelve” to the next level by raising money to help fund the 12 projects they are active in around the globe; a task that has become more than a full time job for him – and I don’t believe he – or his boys – would have it any other way.
I was so personally inspired by this family to do more, be more, and most importantly, be around these kind of people that I’m flying out to North Carolina this summer to spend 5 days with them to see how I too, can become part of their global initiative. While I’m there I’m also attending one of J.D.’s workshops, called “The Artist’s Weekend” to learn more about myself, and see just what I’m capable of doing to help out. I’m also confident I’ll get the opportunity to say “Hello” to a bunch more strangers who are also “Friends I haven’t met yet”, a prospect which I find pretty darn exciting!
And here’s my point: I am so lucky to have this amazing opportunity, and to have met this wonderful, kind and generous family; but none of it would have happened if I’d refused to “Talk to a stranger”, and I would have missed out on so, so much. I challenge each and every person who reads this to open their hearts and minds to this idea of saying “Hello” to strangers – sure, it might feel a bit weird, odd or uncomfortable at times, but do it anyway; as my story proves, you never know WHO you might become friends with, or how your life will change because of it.
Remember, you hold the key; now get out there and unlock a few doors – trust me when I say that you’ll be glad you did!
Read J.D. Lewis’s HP Article “12 Reasons to Take Your Kids Around the World” here.
Readers: Have you ever randomly met someone who changed your life? Please let me know in the comments below!