Cambrian: Slice of Life

Compliment a stranger. You just might make someone’s day

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner

Memes about kindness are making the rounds again on social media, and if we’ve ever needed caring compassion and gentle warm-heartedness, now is it.

Politics and elections aside, let’s focus on our real lives and things that are just as personally vital as voting … rather than arguing endlessly about things over which we, as individuals, have absolutely no control.

Little things, too, like being nice to strangers, which we should have been doing all along, thank you.

It’s incredible what a simple comment or compliment can do for someone else, and by the way, it’ll help make your day brighter, too.

Brief, sincere praise doesn’t have to be profound: “That color looks wonderful on;” “Thank you for your bright smile. It made me happy;” “Your posture is amazing! You must have been a dancer at some time in your life;” “What a pretty scarf!”

I love striking up a convo with strangers, wherever it happens. I’ll chat with people I don’t know in a restaurant, at the market or in a store, at a doctor’s office, when we’re in our little town or a big city, and even on public transportation.

Worry-wart friends fuss at me, “Oh, you mustn’t do that! It’s not safe. Who knows what that person might be, what might happen?”

Meanwhile I’m thinking, “I’m at the eye-doctor’s office, waiting for my eyes to dilate, the same as the other five people around me. What are they going to do, beat me about the head and shoulders with a 1998 magazine?”

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Perhaps talking to strangers delights me because I was a so-shy only child of a divorced working mother, in a culture and an era when none of those conditions were socially acceptable.

I understand lonely, whether it’s a lifelong condition, emotions triggered by a life change, or a flash-in-the-pan caused by boredom and the lack of an interesting conversation partner.

I had to teach myself to reach out, put myself out there, and now I love doing it.

When I chat with strangers, I help fill time pleasantly for two or more people who would otherwise be scrolling the Internet on their phones, reading that elderly magazine or staring at their hangnails.

(Caveat: All bets are off if that person’s reading a book, working a puzzle, herding a rowdy 2-year-old or diligently studying a textbook or 7-pound governmental document. Not going to interrupt that, no sir!)

How much more fun it would be to discover, say, that the woman next to me moved here a couple of years ago from Belgium, has three children, four goats and a python, her husband plays polo, she works as a cabinetmaker and they all love to rollerblade. Hey, it could happen!

After all, a stranger may just be a new friend I haven’t met yet.

We’re not the only ones willing and eager to talk to strangers. Within two days in late October, two Cambria friends commented online about their heart-warming experiences with people they didn’t know. These are kind ladies, which helps, but still ….

As Ramona Voge and an apprehensive elderly woman waited to renew their driver’s licenses recently, the former comforted the jittery stranger.

“She was so nervous,” Ramona said. “I told her I’d stay by her during the rest of the process. She gave me one of those ‘grandmother’ smiles, and she seemed to calm down. As she verified documents (and) signed more papers, I tried to explain things to her in slow, simple terms.”

Of course, it helped.

As Ramona said later, “It was a very rewarding experience. I left DMV with a smile, and I was so happy the rest of the day.”

Likewise, Deanna Voelker spent time encouraging and befriending a man in his 80s as both were hiking, but separately. In the subsequent conversation along the trail, she learned that the visitor from England had recently had back surgery, but in the past had run 29 marathons, including the Boston Marathon nine times.

“I’m glad that I took the time to walk with him and chat,” Deanna wrote on Facebook. “There are some truly interesting and kind people out there. You just need to take the time to find out who they are.”

Which proves again that we can be real, live kindness memes ourselves, just by taking a chance and starting a conversation with a stranger.

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