Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Consequential Strangers

It’s not unusual for a story on NPR to catch my attention or make me think, but it’s not often that a story stays with me for days. That’s what has happened with a story that aired last week titled, The Importance Of 'Consequential Strangers' on Talk of the Nation with Neil Conan.

The show interviewed authors Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman about their new book, Consequential Strangers, which explores the importance of all those relationships you have in your life—not with your friends or loved ones, but rather with the people who play a smaller, background role and yet still make a difference in your life. Maybe this is the barista you see at Starbucks every morning or your hairdresser or the person you see when walking your dog every evening.

And so I started thinking about some of the consequential strangers in my life and some of the ways these more-than-strangers have made a difference for me.

One consequential stranger was my college’s shuttle bus driver. Of course there were several, but this particular woman had the weekday afternoon into evening shift, the time I was most likely to ride the shuttle to the Metro. At the end of my freshman year, she was the first person I told that I had been offered an awesome job and would be staying in Washington, DC for the summer. It was a dream come true (for me, anyway, maybe not for my mom!) and I was literally bursting at the seams to tell someone! Of course, this was years before I had a cell phone so I couldn’t tell any of my friends until I saw them in person back at the dorm and I couldn’t call my parents until I got to my room. So, I told the shuttle bus driver, the first person I saw.

Another consequential stranger was the guy who made the sandwiches in the liquor store/deli across the street from my first out-of-college job. A little reminiscent of the soup man in Seinfeld, he was gruff and you had only seconds to give him your order. It had better not be too complicated, either. But, oh man, those sandwiches were delicious! I tried to kill him with kindness and after a few years I started getting smiles from him—and maybe just a few extra seconds to place my order!—in return.

There are so many people like this in our lives. We may or may not know their names, we probably would never consider adding them as a friend on Facebook, but their presence in the world has made a difference for us.

After I started thinking about some of the consequential strangers in my life, I started to wonder if I am a consequential stranger for anyone. I wonder if there are people out there who don’t know my name but for whom my presence in the world has made a difference in their lives.

I certainly hope so.

Original post to DC Metro Moms. Aimee Olivo listens to NPR as she works, blogs and parents. You can more of her writing at Smiling Mama and Out by Ten.

Elaine said...
I really like this idea of stopping to notice the many layers of people in our lives. Not only do they have an impact on our lives, but we also affect them! I bet you made your shuttle bus driver's day by sharing your exciting news, a positive lift which likely spilled into her interactions with people in her own life.

The book sounds intriguing ... I will check it out.

Aimee Olivo said in reply to Elaine...
Elaine, I love the layers idea as well as the concept of the ripple effect. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

Stimey said...
This is such a great post! I feel this way too about a lot of people I've met or interacted with over the years. There are so many quick interactions that never go anywhere, but for some reason are important and stay with you. What a great name for them.

Aimee Olivo said in reply to Stimey...
Thanks, Stimey! I agree, the name is just perfect!

Kate Coveny Hood said...
That's an interesting idea... I've often wondered how many photo albums I'm in (as a stranger in the background - since I grew up in DC and have spent a lot of time in the touristy areas). And I've also wondered how many people from my past think about me (since so many people I didn't keep in touch with pop into my head so regularly). AND I've even wondered how many people remember me but I don't remember them (since I know exactly who I remember but doubt they remember me). But I've never really given much thought to whether I'm a small but important character in someone else's life story. I wonder...

Kate Coveny Hood...
Kate, I agree, it is fun to think about all those things! My sister went through a phase where she would try to get into tourist photos--not ruining them, just casually walking behind or something like that. Too funny!

BananaBlueberry said...
Thanks for this post!!!!!
It reminds me to be self-aware and kind- because I'm a consequential stranger to others :)

Melinda Blau said...
Aimee, I was tooling around the Internet (ok--I'll admit it: I searched "consequential strangers"!) and I found this great post and fabulous replies. Thanks for spreading the word about CS. You know I've written many parenting books (Secrets of the Baby Whisperer being the most popular), and I know from personal and professional experience--not to mention my daughter who is mother of three boys, 6, 4, and 4 mos--how important CS are to moms. There's one thing
I wish I had said on NPR: The first step is being aware of CS. But to really see how these everyday encounters lead to life-changing moments and learn how you make those connections work for you, I hope people will actually read the book. It takes you to lots of different places--the office, the play ground, the health club, your doctor's office, the coffee shop on the corner--and shows you the fascinating and often subtle ways that consequential strangers make a difference in your life. To my delight, people who've read the book says it changes the way they walk in the world. A journalist can't ask for much more than that!
Keep in touch!
Twitter: @melindablau

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

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