How much time do you take to get to know people around you? To really hear their stories, encourage them, be a friend, be a neighbor? You may be better at it than I’ve been lately! I’ll admit, I get caught up in my own busy-ness and don’t take as much time as I should to make new connections and, by doing so, learn really interesting things about people. (I’m embarrassed to say that we had new neighbors move in just 2 doors down over a year ago and I’ve done nothing more than wave as I speed out of or into the neighborhood!)
I had a teacher in elementary school who forced us to make conversation with our classmates – she always wanted us to say good morning to our “neighbors”: “Turn to the neighbor on your left and say good morning! Now turn to the neighbor on your right!” It was hard for me to talk to kids I didn’t know very well. And there are times, even today, when I’m asked in meetings to “turn to the person on my left” and introduce myself/say my favorite color/ask a personal question about the person as an “icebreaker.” It’s not my favorite thing to do AT ALL.
But it’s probably good to be forced to do this once in awhile, because I have become increasingly bad at small talk! I’m way more comfortable in smaller groups, talking with people I know well, than I am in settings where I have to make conversation with strangers.
I went to an event with a friend Saturday night and we were seated at a table with 4 people I didn’t know. My friend and I took the opportunity for some serious catching-up…. without the distractions of work or children or husbands, we were able to talk about the million things we never have time to talk about during the busy week. Eventually – after the salad course, dinner, and well into dessert – I introduced myself to the others at the table. I “turned to the neighbor on my left” and began the most interesting conversation of my evening! My friend and I got to know Sara, a really sweet and friendly and outgoing teacher, who told us about her tough upbringing (she was removed from an abusive home and placed in foster care), her family relationships today, the positive influence one of her teachers had on her in high school and how it was part of what inspired her to become a teacher herself. She hopes that the experiences she’s had make her a good influence in her students’ lives, and I have no doubt she is. So many kids are struggling with problems or negative influences at home – to know there is a teacher who had those experiences herself could make a serious difference in the life of a student! We had a great conversation about children and life and struggles, exchanged information so we could keep in touch, and I left the event so happy about this totally unexpected and fulfilling interaction.
This week I am going to try to “turn to my neighbor” more and say hello. After all, kind words from strangers, encouraging words from friends, and acts of service are one reason we are here! Everyone has a story to share and I just love hearing them – once I make myself reach out and say hello. It also helps me live out one of my favorite scriptures: Practice hospitality. 🙂 That’s my goal this week!