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The Small Habit That Could Save the World


Most of us were taught as children never to talk to strangers. At face value this is bad life advice — we can never know people we never talk to. But we know it’s only meant to arm children with a basic skepticism about unknown people, so that they’re less likely to accept a ride from that rare person who really is dangerous.

It’s a crude but effective policy, something like how Wal-Mart used to pay “greeters” to stand near the entrance and tape shut any bags you’re carrying; they wanted to prevent shoplifting, so they simply treated all their customers like thieves.

Unfortunately, the word “stranger” isn’t used only between teachers and schoolchildren, it’s our normal word for referring to the overwhelming proportion of the population whom we don’t know anything about. It implies that our default view of everyday passers-by should be at least a little bit suspicious. We need a bit of evidence that they are worthy of our respect — let alone our love or caring — before we give it. We assume no obligation to feel anything for them, or to care how their lives are going.

A minority of the time, I’ll be out in public and that air of indifference won’t be there. Instead, I’ll feel an indiscriminate warmth towards my fellow citizens. There is a certain appreciation, even love, for everyone I see, without any of them showing a similar appreciation for me. Often this happens just after seeing a poignant film, or receiving some good news, or having some other experience that has temporarily dissolved that sense of unknown people being irrelevant.

It’s almost a custom in our society, to dismiss by default the idea of actually caring for people we don’t know, at least before we’ve been given a reason. Our comedy is built on this casual disdain for the other guy. We share anecdotes about “idiots” we ran into earlier. Sartre says “Hell is other people” and we nod knowingly, fully misunderstanding what he meant.

With people we already know, we can easily forgive mistakes. Strangers, however, enter our lives already under suspicion. We disqualify entire human beings from the possibility of our respect or forgiveness the moment they fail to use a turn signal, or wear a baseball cap in the wrong kind of eating establishment.

To quote humorist Jack Handey: “A man doesn’t automatically get my respect. He has to get down in the dirt and beg for it.”

In our culture, the default is to treat strangers with indifference at best. It isn’t normal, for example, to spend a moment quietly wishing your fellow bus passengers a good day at work or school. When we find ourselves in a grocery store aisle with some other human beings, we’re more likely to be annoyed by them than we are to sympathize with them. 

I think we should reconsider our default attitude towards strangers. Treating an unknown person with suspicion or indifference is an act much more crude, thoughtless, and detrimental to society than parking too close to the white line, taking too long to order at Subway, or any of the other petty reasons for which we disqualify people from the possibility of our caring about them.

Nobody goes first

If you’ve experienced this “love as a default” state, it may have been only a happy accident — the glow that comes in the wake of good luck or inspiration, to be enjoyed while it lasts. But you can do it on purpose. You can decide to be loving and respectful, as a rule, to people you encounter, not because of anything they did to deserve it, but because it simply makes for a better custom than indifference does. It creates a far better personal experience for you, and undoubtedly a far better society.

I explained one way of doing this a few months ago, in an article about becoming a stranger’s secret ally. Whenever you notice yourself feeling annoyed by a stranger, decide to forgive the apparent offense, and, for the few minutes you’re in each others presence, commit to helping them if they need help. Be prepared to offer directions if they look lost, intervene if someone’s treating them unfairly, or at the very least, hope that the rest of their day goes well for them. This intention to forgive and then help — even though you will probably never need to act on it — undermines any habitual pettiness that’s present, and allows the possibility of genuine goodwill.

It’s not that we’re unable to care for strangers when we try, it’s that we don’t try, and in fact it’s taboo in our culture. We are suspicious of people who advocate loving or caring for no reason. We think of them as hippies or New-Agers, or at least hopeless idealists. The message is that love and goodwill are things to dole out stingily, for those who have proved deserving. In our culture, being indiscriminate with your love is an embarrassment.

I think this is just a cultural wrong turn, not an inevitable byproduct of modern society. We have a “You go first” idea of love. Of course, when it comes to strangers, nobody goes first. In going first, there is a fear that you will love and not be loved back, and so our profit-minded society sees it as a foolish investment.

Some psychologists suggest that our stinginess with love is a result of how we first learn about it. We begin life experiencing love only as something that is given to us. As babies our experience of love is totally one-way, always pointed towards ourselves, if anywhere.

So we begin with a total fixation on being loved, rather than seeing loving as a skill or a disposition that we could cultivate ourselves. It occurs to us only later that love can be experienced from a completely different direction, by being its giver.

As we explore this end of love, we can, but don’t always, develop a more mature view of it. We discover that we can give love too, so we learn to reciprocate: love given for love received.

But a fully mature view of love goes further, to the point where we can love without knowing whether we’ll be loved back. This is the way parents love (or should love) their children. On this end of the spectrum, love is an offering, not a bargain. Reciprocation isn’t a requirement, or even an expectation; there’s no concern about how much love is “deserved.”

The world changes tones completely when we actively view strangers this way — when we refuse to be indifferent, viewing them instead with love as a default attitude. It changes your experience of everything involving strangers: traffic, concerts, business transactions, restaurants, walks down the street, and even someone’s bad taste in clothes or lawn ornaments. The simple desire for others to have lives they enjoy sweeps away most of our everyday habitual pettiness, and leaves us feeling strangely okay with the human world as a whole.

Indifference towards strangers is conditioned into us though, and so love won’t usually be your first inclination. But it doesn’t have to be. That initial feeling of indifference, or otherness, can serve as cue to remind you to offer love instead of nothing. All you have to do is think about what the stranger next to you might be hoping for, and see if you can quietly share that hope.

That small habit is all it would take to transform the world. Even if you agree, you might still find yourself waiting for others to do it first.


Photo by Joe del Tufo
Sandra Pawula April 13, 2015 at 12:08 am

A beautiful idea and I love the way you ease us into it. I’m delighted to live in the “aloha” state, where a sense of natural love, warmth, and friendliness abides.

nrhatch April 13, 2015 at 8:03 am

I’m glad I saw your comment, Sandra. I feel the same way about living in the Sunshine State where I enjoy talking to “strangers” every day.

Perhaps when people are happy in their surroundings, that sense of natural love, warmth, and friendliness surfaces and flows to everyone around them?

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 8:33 am

Hawaii does have that kind of atmosphere, now that you mention it. It really is paradise in many ways.

Customs definitely vary from place to place. I would guess Russia has less of an “aloha” spirit than Hawaii. Where I live in Canada is probably in the middle, and it’s definitely affected by the weather, for one thing. On the first few nice days of the year people are much more friendly than during the winter. Joy is contagious, and so is misery.

Tony April 13, 2015 at 10:35 am

As a native Russian, I must say: what you describe as an attitude you’re used to in Canada is very similar to what I see around every day. I believe it’s very similar to the US culture, at least in respect to the way people dole out care for others (lovely new phrase for me, by the way, “dole out”). It’s rare, though not impossible, to see people open up to others seemingly about nothing, and it leaves you filled with joy when they do. Just some days ago, I gave a man directions on how to go around a huge puddle after I heard him laughing about such an unexpected obstacle. He thanked me wholeheartedly, with a shining smile over such a small matter – which is, I believe, exactly what you’re talking about in the blog post.

Yatin Khulbe April 13, 2015 at 2:56 am

Hi David
You have raised a wonderful point. We always talk about maintaining peace and love in the society. At one point, we say that ‘we are all one’ On the other side, we create boundaries with strange people.
I can understand the concern of the parents who doesn’t want their kids to gel with stranger people. But, we must not look every person with suspicion. As a single dirty fish pollutes the whole river, some cowards have made us think negative about strange people
Ya, we need to inculcate more love for the strange people.
Thanks for sharing this lovely post.

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 8:40 am

I guess it helps to remember that we are the stranger, to most people in the world. Being a good stranger makes others into better strangers, and strangers less “strange” overall.

Chris April 21, 2015 at 9:22 am

This statement is at least as beautiful as your article. Maybe even more so in its succinctness. Thanks David.

Roland Kusch April 13, 2015 at 2:59 am

I love the idea and believe that our world would be a better place if we applied it.

At the same time I also believe that we have to be careful when an interaction really happens, because let’s face it in our world others only give us attention when they want something from us.

If it’s just love they want that’s fine. A few days ago it was my money and I shouldn’t have been as trusting / loving.

Still: I’m a big fan, love your style and hope we can all learn to be better humans.

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 8:43 am

I think it is possible to be aware that human beings are self-serving while at the same time acknowledging that we are also good and that offering love doesn’t necessarily put us at significant risk. I’m not sure what kind of interaction you had, but clearly it was not what usually happens.

Roland Kusch April 14, 2015 at 4:26 am

I got conned out of some Money.
True my loss wasn’t significant for me, even thought some time ago it might have been. Mostly because I learned, also from this blog, where true value lies.
It was nonetheless difficult, to pull my mind away from thinking negatively (as you can see above I’m still not completely past it). Some time ago I would have let this drag me down for weeks.
I know people, who carry grudges about the tiniest mishaps or wrongdoings of others for ages.

So maybe what I want to say is this: I don’t think the habit could save The world, but I believe it can improve the live of people reading your blog, so I’ll give it a try. :)

Anna April 13, 2015 at 4:48 am

I’ve noticed that when there is a big plane crash with hundreds of deaths they will say something like…..and three french are dead too( I live in France) as if to say …”and some of our own are dead too.” I don’t know any of them but I’m supposed to feel more sorry for the french deaths just because they come from France so they are less of a stranger. All are strangers because I don’t know any of them and I feel sorry for the loss of a life no matter what country they come from. If there are no french in the plane we feel or are supposed to feel a bit of relief that none of ours were in the plane. Not sure I’m explaining this well. xx

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 8:46 am

I know what you mean, and that custom has always bothered me too. I suppose it is natural that we are more concerned about the people who we deem to be like us in some way. We are certainly more concerned with the death of our relatives than our non-relatives, even though everybody is somebody’s relative. Nationality isn’t a very meaningful common thread to me, but news organizations are in the business of pandering to as many people as possible so it doesn’t surprise me.

Burak April 24, 2015 at 3:18 am

You hit a chord with me here Anna. If we further expand your point to see a more general recurrence of this disease, we can say that this applies to many levels of relationships centered on our own selves (ego), unfortunately, national-level version being only one instance of it.

For example, there is a car crash in which our friend lives but a ‘stranger’ dies and we are relieved. Our family, extended family, friends, soccer team, party… Our nation, our species, or whatever petty label follows ‘our/my’ is somehow better and more important. The root of it is, as I see it, our wrong perception of self/ego which is nothing more than an empty space of an observer, really, as David mentioned in few of his older posts. It’s almost like saying “my X is better because (majestic) ‘I’ am a part of it” (Put any group of people centered on ‘I’ instead of X).

Moreover, this conditioned virus can hide itself maliciously behind different levels of abstractions. Some people (presumably including ourselves) can deem racism, for instance, while praising nationalism (disguised as patriotism which is another level of abstraction of ego anyway) without noticing that they have the same root at the lowest level of all abstractions.

Oddly enough, once we diagnose this disease and want to heal it in a broader context, the way we deal with it might often-times happen to be anger resulting from disappointment and/or resentment at the lame abstractions of ego of ‘others’, without noticing that this very anger, ironically, is also a form ill-perceived ego. The way we need to deal with it, as it turns out, is to equip ourselves with a different perception of the ‘others’ much like David mentions in this post and an understanding of nonviolent communication as in David’s masterpiece here: http://www.raptitude.com/2014/04/internet-activism

Yukie April 13, 2015 at 5:13 am

Hi David,

This article is great and beautiful. The idea is fresh and new. I am sure that if all people in every country practice the message you convey, we will truly transform the world for good. We will live without suspicion toward strangers wherever we are. We will love others instead of distrusting them.

At the same time, in the world where there are still a lot of people attached to money, power and pleasure, I think this principle of loving all needs to be tempered with prudence. We take quite big risk if we ‘go first’ in showing our love; we will be vulnerable to deception.

In my view, it is right to treat a person based on our own or other people’s experiences regarding the person’s actual deeds and character or personality, rather than only his or her appearance and words. This way, we have that individual’s ‘track record’ that can give more certainty that we interact with a decent person. This is especially important to teach to children, who tend to be innocent and naïve. Because if we are kind, it is uncertain that all people will also be kind to us, let alone people we have just known.

Therefore, perhaps it is inappropriate if we practice loving all strangers toward all people in all places or situations. Yet, the more situations we face and advices we get about relating with others, the wiser we will become to choose who to love and who to leave alone. It is my personal belief that in life, loving the right people is better than trying to love all people.

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 8:51 am

I don’t think love and prudence are competing forces here. We can certainly take a person’s past deeds into account when choosing how to interact with them. But this is not relevant when it comes to strangers, because we know nothing about them. If our first impression is negative, often it’s because of something small or petty, and I think it’s important to be more open-minded than that. A major point in this article is that we do not need to expect our kindness to be reciprocated in order to give it.

BrownVagabonder April 13, 2015 at 5:56 am

I loved the phrase ‘Nobody goes first’. It’s so true – we always wait for the other person to make the move, so we are not the ones who feel the cruel hand of rejection. But this isn’t so, when we are traveling for some odd reason. When you are traveling you will talk to strangers galore. You will have conversations in cafes, trains, buses, and on the street with people who wouldn’t chat with twice at home.
I always try to let go even when I am at home, and ‘go first’.

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 8:53 am

This is why traveling is so wonderful. You are already out of your element, and have already taken the risk simply by being there and standing out, and so you can jump right into actually talking to people. My backpacking experiences have made me permanently more open.

Christine April 13, 2015 at 1:14 pm

That is so true about traveling! I wonder why? Any thoughts, David??
Why do we put our guard down around strangers in a different state/country/culture, but not for strangers in the very places where we live?

Christine April 13, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Whoops, seems we may be posting at the exact time and I didn’t see your reply above until after I had posted my reply, David. Looks like you have answered my question, but feel free to elaborate more. :)

thejuntotimes April 13, 2015 at 7:17 am

Interesting that you say we are taught about love from the way love is directed towards us. We also seem to tend to feel love towards things that rely on us, and are shown affection / attention (not sure which one – they can become mixed sometimes), by beings that feel we can provide something for them. I guess love is something that you learn the true nature of as you become wiser.

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 8:55 am

It is a really interesting thought. We learn about love from the receiving end first, because as babies we’re not even aware we are anything, let alone that we are fundamentally the same kind of being as our parents are.

Burak April 24, 2015 at 3:33 am

Although they are not separate entities, I think it is more like compassion rather than love (or compassionate love? – I don’t know how to put it in English).

Whatever it is and irrelevant of what we call it, it is a form of connection beyond any expectations (including but not limited to of reciprocity). I’ve learned it much better after becoming a father :)

Is it embedded or not? That’s a different question. To me, it is. One of the many examples was, for me, watching my 2.5 years old caring for a new born with a similar compassion (no expectations whatsoever).

Lola April 13, 2015 at 7:41 am

hi Dave it such a wonderful article I think that the idea that strangers are strange is what holds us back, and being taught childhood that things that are strange to you can harm you can make a lasting impression how do you overcome the fear of being hurt by the unknown in order to show that love? Pain is a powerful reminder of what not to do.

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 8:59 am

Once you’ve identified a particular fear that is worth overcoming, the only way I know of is to do the thing you are afraid of, first to very small degrees, and then make larger moves. Fear is amazing in that it holds up so well when you are afraid to go near it, but as soon as you start pushing it tends to give way very quickly. The feeling of doing something you fear and feeling it dissolve is exhilarating.

In this case, start with the Being a Good Stranger practice. It’s zero-risk and will inspire you:


Timothy April 13, 2015 at 7:53 am

Very nice. This is pretty much exactly what Christ said when asked what the greatest of commandments: love your neighbor as yourself. It’s always been counter to our natural inclinations. Not easy to do but worthwhile.

Kathleen April 13, 2015 at 8:36 am

That is exactly what I was thinking. This was his core message and he words have been so poorly misinterpreted and maligned.
Thank you for the article David. Lovely and all very true.

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 9:02 am

Yes, and it’s an inclination worth overcoming.

And we don’t have to go all the way at first. I believe Christ was talking about a complete sacrifice of personal interest in favor of the good of all, which is something few people are prepared to do. It is the highest moral good, to give up all preference for yourself. But we only have to do a tiny fraction of that to change our attitude towards strangers.

cheri April 13, 2015 at 11:23 am

I loved your secret stranger ally post, but this one is my favorite.

this is Christ consciousness, which is awakening at a rapid rate as the earth’s vibration increases: walking around with an open heart, projecting love and compassion at people simply because they’re human and they, like you, have ideas, fears, pain, joy, they love and they are loved, and if you tune into your heart you can feel the connectedness all around you.

I don’t think it feels like complete personal sacrifice when you know in your heart we are all one infinite consciousness, like Christ (and Buddha, and other supernaturally wise persons) understood. yes, you may sacrifice the body, this vehicle for your infinite soul in each incarnation, in the quest to raise consciousness around you, but we truly all benefit. it matters where you put your energy and attention; what you focus on will increase.

it’s simple, but not easy.
thanks for a beautiful post.

nrhatch April 13, 2015 at 8:07 am

This post is a good nudge, David.

I find it easy to talk to strangers ~ they don’t all reciprocate, but most respond to a smile with a smile and to a kind word with a kind word.

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 9:03 am

Right, and we don’t even have to talk to strangers in order to do this. We only have to reconsider our initial impression, and see if we can hope for their good fortune.

June April 13, 2015 at 8:29 am

” love is an offering, not a bargain ”
wonderful line :~)
all the changes we are looking for in this world all need to start
inside each of us, and truly if we say it’s hard it will be hard

thanks for the reminder today

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 9:04 am

Thanks June.

Welles April 13, 2015 at 8:59 am


The clarity of your thoughts and observations in this article are brilliant. I love it.

♥ Welles

David Cain April 13, 2015 at 9:04 am


Scott April 13, 2015 at 9:21 am

Awesome article and I couldn’t agree more. I have firsthand experience with this concept and it has changed my life.

It is a constant battle with myself to make eye contact with people when I talk to them. I don’t know where it comes from, it’s just a lifelong habit/battle. I’ve been going to electronic music festivals and concerts for a long time and they are generally filled with love. One day at Ultra Music Festival while reminding myself to make eye contact, I thought why not throw something else in there. I decided that anyone that I walked past that made eye contact with me would get a smile, from this day forward.

I’ve been employing that ever since. Just by using that simple “rule”, I can not only start up conversations with strangers but I’ve made friends that way. Even if I smile at just one stranger and they smile back or say hello, it makes my day instantly a little bit better and probably theirs too :-)

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 8:45 am

This is wonderful. We are most comfortable being closed off, and so to become more open we have to confront a bit of fear. But then that becomes the new norm, and the fear retreats further. You can keep pushing fear back, with just a little effort, and it will go — fear is not very brave.

Scott April 30, 2015 at 6:10 pm

I meant to come back and see if you replied but when I’m not working, I’m working, haha.

I wanted to add that since I read your article, I’ve made other observations from my “smile rule”. It’s become apparent to me that some people are virtually caught off guard when I smile at them. I never really noticed it before but to me that means unfortunately it really is not commonplace to expect a stranger to be friendly :-(

Sophia April 13, 2015 at 9:23 am

Incredibly uncanny that this was posted today, as I’ve been thinking about this idea constantly for the past two weeks! Glad to know I’m not the only one. Living in New York City, recently I had a conversation with someone who told me she’s trying to start “looking at strangers with the eyes of someone who loves them”, like their mom or something, instead of as predatory, or as an object of criticism. Amazing that this article basically articulates exactly that sentiment.

Thanks for your insights, as always! :)

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:04 am

That’s a good way of saying it. It really seems like a parental kind of love, only without the attachment and fear. You are very forgiving, and you want them to be happy, but also good — you want them to make the right choices for themselves and by others. NYC is a great place to practice this, because there are just so many people around. The limited space can make people hard to each other, but it also means there are infinite opportunities to practice this.

Albert Ruel April 13, 2015 at 9:28 am

Thanks for this reminder that I can be the change I want to see in the world.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:05 am

It is really helpful to think what it would mean if others were quietly wishing you well. Maybe they are.

Samuel Mandell April 13, 2015 at 9:53 am

The Christian gospel (in it’s truest form) teaches that we were all strangers once from God. The salvation story is about redemption into a family, to be a child of God, and once in, you can see that all are children of God. It becomes less about seeing others as strangers that are competing for the same resources (money, attention, love, etc.), but rather members of the same family.

So when we see someone we don’t know, we can treat it like discovering someone who has an immense amount in common with us… “no way! you’re doing this crazy thing called Life too? What’s your take on it?” Rather than some foreign enemy we must protect ourselves from.

Not always easy to remember when we’re in a hurry (probably our most selfish and worst state).

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:08 am

This feeling of commonality is the center of it, yes. That feeling that all well-being is important and good, regardless of who is experiencing it.

Marie April 13, 2015 at 10:05 am


Thank you for your article. I leave for Europe this week and will be using the valuable advice from you and everyone’s posts. I have noticed that adopting the perspective of an advocate for strangers can actually make long distant flights enjoyable. I have held people’s babies while they use the restroom, shared my packed food, and answered questions about my job from people looking over my shoulder while I work on my computer. All potentially annoying tasks but not so if you are an advocate for strangers. Side note: I am a notorious lurker on your site and Mr. MM. This is the first time I am actually commenting. Thank you for your blog. I feel that reading it keeps me honest with myself.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:12 am

Another lurker emerges! Welcome Marie. I like the word you chose here: advocate. Be an advocate for strangers.

You’ve hit on something really important that I tried to emphasize in my “better stranger” post: that we can cure our own annoyances and pains by shifting at least some of our concern for ourselves onto other people. Long-distance flights can be uncomfortable, partly because we’re in such intense contact with so many strangers. But we can ease our own difficulty by attending to the difficulty others might be experiencing.

Trella Brazil April 13, 2015 at 10:45 am
David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:12 am

Thanks for the shout-out Trella

mike April 13, 2015 at 10:45 am

Thought provoking. I must give this much more of my time. Just yesterday I read an interesting article that says by being compassionate, it actually helps to lower blood pressure. This certainly ties in with that.

I used to read a blog by a perpetual traveller. He been out of the US for an extra number of years than usual and wrote his thoughts about what had changed since last time he was here. He said he was amazed at how nice people treated him. Two examples he gave was how he was changing a diaper at an airport and someone gave him a diaper. Another example was he was standing in line at grocery store and going through his change to pay. Someone offered to give him money, then someone else said if he wasn’t going to give him money, he would.

Thank you for the article, much to think about.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:14 am

What’s so interesting to me is that we are at all times so close to touching moments like this. It takes such a small effort to make them happen. The only problem is that it’s just not normal, at least in some cultures. And it’s no sacrifice to help someone — it feels so great.

Amanda April 13, 2015 at 11:09 am

Thank you for articulating and sharing this lovely idea. I try to treat everyone as my brother and sister. We are all connected. And there for the grace of goddess go I. Love.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:15 am

And there for the grace of goddess go I

Yup… This is always true and it fills me with gratitude whenever I think of it, which isn’t often enough.

SusieR April 13, 2015 at 11:10 am

I love this article. LOVE.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:16 am


Mike April 13, 2015 at 11:16 am

Incredibly timely, as I was laying in bed last night, unable to sleep, as I’d realized for the very first time that there isn’t a single human being in life that I’m very close to, have a deep connection with, or am intimate with in any way.

In my sadness at the realization however, I quickly understood that I had done this slowly to myself over the course of the past 20-25 years. I didn’t cultivate the relationships that I had, always expecting others to take the first step. I actively put out a “stay away from me” vibe. I struggle mightily with small talk, so meeting new people was a non-starter. (I’ve lived in my current city for most of the past 17 years, but I’ve yet to make a single friend here in all of that time.)

But I also realize that, if I created my current reality, I can also change it. I can change the subconscious message I send to the world. Maybe some people will find my awkwardness with small talk appealing. And I can definitely wish better things for all of humankind around me.

It starts with a single step. I’ve committed to changing the vibe I put out into the world into one of warmth, welcoming, love and caring. The others will take a little more time, but I’m curious to see what changes in my life after a few years of doing this. An interesting experiment to be sure.

Thank you for putting this out there.

Valerie April 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Just want to say … Good for you. And hello. And welcome. I’m also an introvert, and it’s really hard to get out there and be vulnerable – because people will indeed hurt you, intentionally or otherwise. But there is real joy in intimate friendship, and also in offering acts of kindness, whether planned or impulsive and whether to friends or strangers, when the opportunity arises.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:22 am

Hi Mike. I have learned the hard way too that relationships don’t just happen. Someone has to take the initiative, and assume responsibility for their maintenance.

This was a major revelation for me, and I talked about it here:


I find the idea of the “vibe” really helpful. We do broadcast warmth or coldness, and if we’re in the habit of protecting ourselves then others are probably perceiving coldness. We can consciously choose to broadcast warmth, and people will notice. It also leads to different actions, which lead to different responses in others. Good on you for recognizing that things don’t have to continue the way they have. We tend to think that who we are is who we have been, but that’s just an error. We’re just more familiar with the past than we can possibly be with the future.

Our Next Life April 13, 2015 at 11:58 am

Beautiful. So happy to have found your blog. The whole post rings so true, though we wouldn’t have known it a few years ago. Having spent all of our adult lives in big cities, where the feeling of being isolated from and distrustful of strangers is most pronounced, we moved to a small town a few years ago, and felt a huge shift. People keep their doors unlocked here. Strangers talk to each other and help each other out. To call it a breath of fresh air is a major understatement. More like we weren’t even breathing at all, but then started when we moved here. Thank you for this poignant reminder.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:23 am

There is a huge difference, yes. I love city life, but the bigger the city, the better people are at ignoring each other.

Marco April 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm

You Sir, are a great new Friend.

Be well,
Marco ~~

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:23 am

Thanks Marco :)

John Keiffer April 13, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Thank you. Really enjoyed reading this.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:24 am

Thank you John.

Elena April 13, 2015 at 12:39 pm

I love this article, too. It reminded me of my once-cultivated practice of imagining all the people around me in their babyhood. Sweet way to pass the time at a traffic light.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:26 am

Yes. I have done this too. When we’re around babies we’re so conscious and careful because we know how vulnerable they are. When I’m in traffic I am sometimes lucky enough to remember that that delicateness continues on into adulthood. We should think of other human beings of any age as vulnerable and delicate.

George G. April 13, 2015 at 5:50 pm

The terrible thing about the indifference and suspicion that we breed towards strangers is that it can grow, if you’re not careful, into stronger feelings of hate, xenophobia, and bitterness.

I see these sentiments expressed all the time in political debates, and it saddens me to no end the lengths people will go just to actively shut out other people they deem as being too “different.”

I’ve said for years that our world is lost without compassion. In fact, I want those words as my epitaph. Our world is lost without compassion. I wear the title of “bleeding-heart liberal” as a badge of honor, where conservatives might try to use it pejoratively against me. I just tell them: I’d sooner be guilty of loving too much than loving too little.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:27 am

Yes, and it has a way of reinforcing itself. It is kind of gratifying to judge people, and when we judge people we reduce them to simple concepts with little value: liberals, conservatives, jerks, douchebags, strangers…

Simona April 14, 2015 at 6:28 am

All that you write is so true.
I am personally very much (and wrongly) identified with my family history which actually did not depend on me (in total).
I never felt beloved by my parents and got out of it by becoming an iron-lady.
Guess what? Everybody is now expecting me to be stronger with the precise role of the “one who supports and helps” (which I kind of like, must admit) but I need as well help and support.
What shall I do then?…
I am confused now :)

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:29 am

Without understanding your situation, or what it’s like to be you, I can’t be sure. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to speak harsh truths to people and tell them what you need.

minikins April 14, 2015 at 9:19 am

A good reminder of what Jesus Christ’s central message was over 2000 years ago: to love one another. But His message goes beyond the somewhat easier call to love a complete stranger.

We have no commitments to strangers, they come and they go; it’s actually easier to demonstrate the “kindness of strangers” as they do not know us or our history and probably never will. We can be a hero for a day, hour or minute. And that’s no bad thing.

The difficulty is in loving our enemies. People we KNOW are bad, dangerous or who hate us. That is the love that Christ wanted us to experience and show, to turn the other cheek, non resistance to evil and hatred. It is not a passive response to violence, hatred and persecution but an active participation in forgiveness, reconciliation, love and mercy. It is real passion the hardest love of all.

David Cain April 14, 2015 at 9:31 am

Well put. And that may be a reason to begin with the small reversal of attitude towards strangers. Loving one’s enemies is probably the greatest possible feat for a human being.

Marcy April 14, 2015 at 11:07 am

Reminds me of this post by another blogger I follow, about why she defaults to respecting others, instead of making them earn her respect. She mentions, among other things, that this way she pays for any mistakes, instead of passing that cost on to others; and that this helps combat the implicit biases we all have. The cost of “earning respect” tends to be higher on marginalized groups.


Hilary April 15, 2015 at 10:13 am

I moved from a slow, southern place to a fast, crowded place a couple years ago, and in my first three weeks out here, I had to figure out everything from the DMV to grocery stores on my own. Not only was I having to rely on the kindness of strangers, I simply had no choice but to. People are not jerks, they’re just busy, and most of them don’t mind a small interruption to answer a question. Now my default setting whenever I’m out in public is “I will not be a jerk today.” A good mood in mixed unchosen company (like waiting in line, or being stuck in crowded places) can be as contagious as a bad mood, especially if it’s the good mood that people see evidence of first. Getting older is fun in part because we’re less prone to misfire or hold The Entire Amorphous World Out There accountable for our relatively small, specific problems. Inject levity into situations with people you’ll “never see again” (ha) and everything just seems or is better.

Stevien April 15, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Very insightful post as always David. I would like to share about a recent article I’ve read and my thoughts about it in general. There was a man in Japan who stumbled upon an obviously lost little girl, and initially thought to approach her to offer some help. He hesitated however, after considering how doing so might scare the little girl further, or even cause other strangers to suspect that he was a pervert. Instead, he notified the police about the situation and waited until the police arrived. Some people have applauded him for his thoughtfulness in handling the situation, while others criticised him for prolonging the little girl’s situation. What do you think? What would you have done?

Randy Hendrix April 15, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Another great article David…truly excellent advice and something for us all to think about.
Your reply above…”I guess it helps to remember that we are the stranger, to most people in the world. Being a good stranger makes others into better strangers, and strangers less “strange” overall”…I don’t think you could’ve said it any better than that!
Take care.

Max Coleman April 17, 2015 at 3:23 pm

This reminds me of the “self-interest norm,” which states that Americans *want* to be more altruistic than they are, but end up acting selfish because they feel they must: http://faculty-gsb.stanford.edu/millerd/docs/1999amerpsyc.html

Carmalita Thurstenson April 20, 2015 at 12:55 pm

I believe that if all of us get up from the ground and stop the hatred and judging so much that we could live a little more and have more fun in life,

Ingrid syr April 21, 2015 at 9:40 am

this is easy to write for someone who is a man – sorry to say it – but the dont talk to strangers-rule is very different when seen from a woman`s perspective who does not only have to deal with strangers in general, but male strangers who take contact in myriads of unwanted ways. I think we still have a long way to go before talking to strangers actually is a safe encounter. People are people, and the last abuser or dangerous person is yet to be born. .. It`s nice to read your positivism, but I wished you backed with more experience ..

Chris April 21, 2015 at 10:02 am

I am a man Ingrid, but I understand your point (as much as a man can). I had a conversation with my sister a few months ago about how I am just simply trying trying to make more eye contact with people and smile at them. Sometimes this will lead to a conversation, other times simply a return smile, and other times no reciprocation at all. My sister loved the idea, but said she had the exact same fear as you. Smile or make eye contact with the wrong person and they get the wrong idea. I don’t know the solution to this, but I am sorry that things have to gotten to such a state that peolple like yourself and my sister feel this way. Thanks for sharing.

David Cain April 21, 2015 at 10:08 am

It is true that women have more security concerns than men when it comes to interacting with strangers, but this article is not about interacting with strangers, it’s about how we view them. Nobody needs to put themselves in any kind of additional danger to do what I’m talking about here.

Mark8v29 May 16, 2015 at 4:40 am

… and as I child I learnt “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me” but 99.999% of adults (especially if in positions of power?) seem to have forgotten what I knew even as a child, and react aggressively if aggressive words are used against them.

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