A little while ago, I was standing on a street corner—in New York, people often stand in the street when they’re waiting to cross, because you need to save that tenth of a second—and I didn’t realize I was standing over the storm drain. A man next to me turned and said to me: “Don’t stand there, you’re going to disappear.”
At first, I thought it was ridiculous. Did he mean I was going to fall in, or some evil spirit was going to suck me down through the sewer grate? But there was something very caring in the way he said it. So I stepped back onto the sidewalk, and he said, “Good, you never know what might happen—I might turn around, and zoop! You’re gone.” I’ve been talking to strangers my whole life and trying to understand what it’s about, and in that moment, I realized I really existed to the degree that it would upset this man if I disappeared. That notion of feeling acknowledged as a person is one of the core pieces to me.
I’m an advocate for talking to strangers. I wrote last spring: “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.”