It was a while back that I first read someplace about Kierkegaard’s perceived idler reputation.

George Pattison writes that “Kierkegaard himself regarded these walks as integral to his literary persona: giving the world the impression that he was a mere idler, while writing books that would change the world.” But this doesn’t feel quite right to me. Ronald F. Marshall describes Kierkegaard’s habit differently:

Kierkegaard walked the streets chatting as he went in order to do more than get his exercise and put his mind at rest. He was trying to “renounce” himself by becoming so familiar that no one would expect him to be a profound thinker and give his publications the benefit of the doubt. No, he wanted to come off as “a street-corner loafer, an idler,” so that if his ideas were to catch on they would do so on their own…

I thought of Kierkegaard this morning in Hell’s Kitchen when I was getting my morning coffee. Most of us won’t have ideas or books that change the world, but I wonder how many of us might change our lives if we made it a point to talk to strangers.

We raise children “not to talk to strangers,” but we forget to tell them as they get older that most success in life and most of the spontaneous happiness in everyday life—it turns out—comes from talking to strangers.

And I don’t mean exchanging a few pleasant words with the person at the register. If we only exchange pleasantries with people we’re dealing with economically, we’re not cultivating ourselves as social creatures.