HOW TO SEE THE SOMEONE BEHIND THE STRANGER
If you’ve ever had a Kinder Joy egg you’ll know that the plain, smooth chocolate outside is a complete misrepresentation of the fun, surprise-filled inside where you realise that there is so much more than what meets the eye. But, without the effort of cracking it open, the inside remains a mystery and the outside restrains your impression.
You see, like so many other things in life, this tasty treat takes a little bit of work to discover what it’s really about and for us to enjoy its full potential. This couldn’t be more true than with how we interact with people. I don’t know about you, but in my own life I’m certainly guilty of choosing not to look past the surface of some people I encounter. Sometimes it’s for a lack of interest, sometimes it's for a resistance to effort, but every time I choose to stick to the plain, smooth outside, I miss out on the greatness beyond that. I miss out on the stories and the details, or the memories and the experiences, and I miss out on the beauty that lies within the humanity we all share. By leaving these people as strangers, I miss out on the someones.
Over the next few moments I’d love to challenge and encourage you to join me in an effort to understand that there is so much more to a person than we may realise at first glance. They may become a friend, they may become a partner, they may simply teach us a lesson, but whether that or this, they will always have something to offer us because that’s the beauty of humanity: it always gives those who seek it out something in return.
So, how do we look beyond the stranger to the someone? Here’s five things I’ve learned along the way of my life; through trial and error, from many a mistake, and through many a moment of serendipity - a fortunate accident:
1. Don’t be afraid to say hello
I am about as introverted as they get - we’re talking hermit vibes. And so, often I can let my introvertism get the best of me to the point where I can’t even stomach the silly little word ‘hello’. However, a simple ‘hello’ is often the gateway into a conversation that may just change your entire day, month and sometimes, your entire world.
Another thing about ‘hello’ is that it doesn’t just have the power to change something about your life, it has the power to change something about the other person’s life too. When we greet someone we indirectly say to them I see you, I notice you, and I acknowledge you. We may not realise it, but for some people this may be the only form of acknowledgement they receive in a day. At OutsideIn our mission is first and foremost to help those experiencing homelessness. For many of these individuals they live a life of invisibility. The world around them rushes past, avoiding any kind of acknowledgement because often acknowledgement leads to action and let’s be honest, action isn’t always easy. But when we step outside of our comfort zones to greet these individuals, we give them back the sense of humanity and connection that is often lost as a result of their circumstances.
When you think about it, a ‘hello’ isn’t that difficult. Sometimes it just requires a little work but its reward is far greater than the cost of its effort. Trust me.
2. Read between the lines of life
Every fiction novel has a little something called subtext. This is something the reader doesn’t know immediately but slowly becomes aware of over time. It is an underlying narrative that isn’t obvious on the surface but often has a vital influence over what that surface looks like.
For example, a character who is constantly angry or in a bad mood may just seem like they have a case of the wrong-side-of-bed, but subtext may reveal to us that the reason they’re so angry is because they’ve been rejected, or they’ve been hurt, or fired, or abandoned, or cheated, or… Subtext shows us that there is always more to someone than we think, and it should keep us aware of the initial judgements we can be so tempted to make.
When we read between the lines of life and seek to discover the subtext of a person’s story, we will undoubtedly find so much more than we can imagine. Subtext not only has the ability to shape the external nature of a person, but it also has the ability to reposture the internal assumptions within ourselves. It can stir empathy and compassion, understanding and patience, kindness and humility, forgiveness and grace. It is absolutely essential to be aware of the subtext when we encounter a stranger because without it, a stranger is all they will ever be to us.
3. Compassion is key
Whenever we interact with someone, whether we know them or not, we cannot try to understand them without first developing a sense of compassion for who they are as a fellow human being. Compassion should be a bit like underwear - you need to wear it wherever you go. And like underwear, compassion is discreet. It doesn’t call for attention or try to be in the spotlight, it simply rests beneath the surface of who we are and gently influences everything we do.
Compassion will allow you to interact with those around you in a way that connects the human in you to the human in them. It will open your eyes when they need opening and it will whisper to your heart when it needs moving. Compassion is the secret weapon we all need in order to be better humans. It is not only the key to unlocking the beauty, the stories, the vulnerabilities, and the someones within the strangers, but it is the heartbeat of our true connection and a quality that will never ever go to waste.
4. A little kindness = A big difference
We’re all familiar with the saying ‘a little bit goes a long way’. And while this is very true in things like cooking, baking, painting and more, it’s also very true when it comes to kindness.
We live in a fast-paced world where there is little time to stop and smell the roses. We are all on individual missions to be our individual bests and while that’s great for ourselves, it doesn’t do much for others. Society has almost programmed us to be so selfish we don’t even realise it. And in the process of this pursuit of self, one quality can easily get tossed aside: kindness. But the great thing about kindness is that even the tiniest tincture of it can have a monumental effect.
Kindness is also a double-sided win. Have you ever done something kind or generous to someone else? You probably felt pretty good afterwards. This is because when we show kindness to someone else, our brain releases certain chemicals called serotonin and dopamine. These are the feel-good neurotransmitters that lead to feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing.
Not only are these released in our brains when we are kind, but the person receiving this kindness undergoes a transformative experience too. For them they feel appreciated, cared for, loved, and noticed; all of which lead to a similar chemical reaction. And in turn, this may encourage that person to show kindness to someone else and so on and so forth, until you have a domino effect of kindness changing lives far and wide.
If there is one simple way to actively change the world, I am pretty certain that kindness has something to do with it.
5. Behind every stranger there is a someone
The last few weeks we’ve spoken about the impact that follows a decision to make the stranger someone. Working with people who often find themselves on the outside of society, we know first hand how difficult it is to feel like a stranger and how this word has the power to impact every area of our wellbeing. However, we also know the power that accompanies the word ‘someone’.
We know that when a person is made to feel like a someone, they are made to feel worthy. We know that a person is regarded as a someone, they are made to feel valuable. And we know, better than anything else, that when a person is moved from being looked at as a stranger to being seen as a someone, they are made to feel human.
While it can seem more natural to view those who we do not know as strangers, we cannot forget that even those we have no connection with are humans too. They are people with struggles, triumphs, flaws, failures, strengths, secrets, fears and dreams. They, just like you and just like me, have so much inside of them and so much ahead of them. And sometimes they, just like you and just like me, need only the smallest bit of recognition to know that they have a place in this world.
For every single unknown face, unheard story, and unseen stranger, there is a someone waiting to be discovered. But the question is, will we be the ones to be bold enough to embark on the journey to do so?
Wherever you find yourself in the world and in your life, I hope that these simple reminders help you to see the beauty within the humanity around us because there is so much of it.
It just takes one decision to see beyond that smooth, plain, outer layer to find all the magnificence that lies beneath.
So go on, open the Kinder Joy egg of life and discover the greatness inside it.
Take care, Oi Fam.