“Every situation – nay, every moment – is of infinite worth, for it is the representative of a whole eternity.”
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1823
While teaching at Arizona State University in the 1970s I asked my students in one of my classes if they would consider going to Prescott AZ on a Saturday to meet and possibly bond with total strangers. They were shocked.
One asked with a tinge of fear “Are you serious?” Another remarked, “You’re joking, right?” It took them a month to relent and sign on with 15 students out of 30 in the class.
I told them all they had to do was find a way to urge a stranger to open up for a few minutes or longer and for the students to be candid within the encounters.
We stood in a park and I asked them to go out for three hours and try to sit down on a bench with a stranger or with someone in a coffee house. I asked them to start by asking where they are from and then where were they were born and raised. The second question can be a bit more intimate.
They returned, and I asked “How many of you managed to draw close to your strangers.” Five students shot their arms up and were eager to respond. They were surprised to sense they could have that kind of connection in such a short time. I asked “How many of you were willing to reveal your own feelings?” They admitted it was just one-way moments.
Annie, a first year student, raised her hand and burst out with “I did it, I did it but I will have to admit I walked for two and a half hours and I felt I could never have the courage to run deep with a stranger. I happened to sat down on a bench in front of a barber shop. There was just one patron in the chair and I suddenly decided to wait for him to leave and I was going in. It was a bit like jumping into a fox hole.
“I opened the door as the elder barber was cleaning up and I burst out with ‘I’m on a special project today and my leader, not me but my leader, he thinks it is possible to run deep with a total stranger within a few minutes but frankly I’m terrified right now.
“OK, I’ll start but you don’t have to do your part if you don’t want to. I’m in my first year at university and my parents have covered my entire tuition so I don’t have to work. I stay awake at night worrying that I may flunk out and my parents would be unhappy. I also have two close friends in my town and I have not been able find a new one yet. I will admit that I have cried at night and no one else knows that.
“Now, you don’t have to…”
The barber interrupted her. “It’s my turn now. I have been a barber for 47 years and my wife wants me to retire and I don’t want to let go. My clients and I open up with each other when we are alone in the shop. My wife wants us to be able to travel and not be tied to my work. I stay awake at night thinking and wondering how to deal with this.”
Annie asked, “Have you told your wife about it.”
“Nope, not my wife or anyone else…except you, just now.”
Annie beamed and said “You know what, I think I am going to get an A-plus on this project!”
“If you don’t get that grade you send your leader over to me!”
I believe beings are built to bond instantly with total strangers but our culture has allowed us to pursue prolong friendships and wedlock too soon.