Coversation with Strangers

Written on the airplane after a conversation with a person who was struggling to tell her family that she has cancer. It was a previous connecting case I re-read this in the future and become horrified that I wrote this next to the person.

On occasion, I travel to visit the awesome customers who has seen the value in the product that my startup team has been building over the span of many months. I am always excited and grateful to encounter so many interesting people and conversations.

However, the most interesting conversations I've been having recently are with total strangers. Uber drivers, person sitting next to you on the airplane, etc.

It's so easy to just put on my Bose Noise Cancellation Headset and shut out the potential opportunities for surprising and deep conversations.

Lately, I've been pushing myself to engage with the world and strike up no-pressure conversations. Neither parties are selling anything, no past catchup required, no agenda, nor really give a hoot about where the conversation is going to lead/end.

This blank conversation canvas has give me opportunity to really engage in deep conversations that's even difficult with my closest friends & family.

  • What's your biggest fear?
  • If you weren't doing this right now, what would you wish you were doing?
  • I just accepted Christ a month ago, and I'm worried about my mother's soul.
  • I'm an agnostic and I don't have answers, but I wish I did.
  • I just finished my cancer treatment and my family doesn't know.
  • ^ I did exactly the same thing. Why do you think we feel we needed to hide that?
  • I'm sorry, I just farted.

I listened to a recent Tim Ferris podcast interview with Cory Booker.

Cory has an amazing story and a huge heart for the human kind. One of the stories that he shared impressed me. (100% from memory, and heavy paraphasing and likely inaccuracies. I encourage you to listen to the interview yourself.)

When Cory was living in the projects in Newark to immerse himself in the community, a community leader asked him to look around the neighborhood and tell her what he sees. He responded with the matter-of-fact observations, such as, broken windows, run-down buildings, garbage, drug dealers...basically a bad neighborhood. The community leader responded with "you're view of the outside world is a reflection of who you are in the inside."

When Cory saw a bad neighborhood...she saw families, kids playing, people helping each other in times of need, life, a community.

This broke and humbled Cory. This story had the same effect on me.

It's true that we are shaped by our past and experiences, but that can't be a wall that we start building around us. It's an artifical boundary that stunts our potential for human connection and personal growth.

Familiarity and comfort is the slippery slope to prejudice and holds us back from experiencing the world to its fullest potential.

I recently had a truly honest conversation with someone that told me "I'm not racist, but living in a predominently white neighborhood gives him/her the comfort of home and belonging." I didn't know how to respond to that, and I still don't. But without judgement, I understand this person's point of view.

Growing up in a first generation immigrant family, where we were surrounded by the Korean-American community, "feeling of home and belonging" was important to my parents.

Though there aren't malicous intent, I think this basic type of human's desire to belong can have detrimental effects.

  • Never learning how to write/speak the langauge of the country you're living in.
  • Inability to engage in a deep conversation with people that are different.
  • Devoted rival gang members divided only by a street, killing each other.
  • Dividing lines between neighborhoods that separate the haves and the have-nots.
  • Political party members that vote for the party and not the candidate.
  • Religous groups debating higher authority...even when they believe in the same deity.
  • Countries that engages in pissing contests over who has the biggest and baddest military technology designed to kill the human race.

I admit, I don't have any answers to address any of the issues mentioned above.

I can only answer to my own commitment to break the internal barriers that has been constructed over a long period of time.

Everyone has:

  • a story and point of view that I can learn from.
  • a struggle.
  • a desire to be loved and appreciated.
  • a secret.
  • a human heart/soul/whatever you call it.

Recently, as get into Uber, sit next to someone on an airplane, or see a homeless person while stopped at a stoplight, I pause to wonder what amazing story/experience this person has to teach the world.

I am listening.

More: Apply these same principals to those closest to me. I dunno why, but I often observe that it's the closest people to me that often gets overlooked, neglected, and don't get the benefit of the doubt. That's pretty messed up.

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