On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
Even Brené Brown says listening and connecting with strangers will help heal the wounds of disconnection, loneliness, and not belonging our society is rife with. She says, lean in and hold the hand of a stranger in her most recent OnBeing interview with Krista Tippett.
When I first started listening on the sidewalk, I am afraid to say, I had never read a Brené Brown book. I remember watching her TED Talk about a year later.
Brené and I share something in common. I’ll bet many of you share this common thing with us too.
I am convinced this is why we all put so much energy into connection, vulnerability, and listening to strangers. Like Brené, I had a deep-seated feeling of “not belonging” in my own family.
I am going to go personal. You ready?
My mom didn’t want me. I did not belong.
Many Sidewalk Talk volunteers and I have bonded around our shared experience.
When I got in trouble as a little girl, Debbie, my mom, would retell me the story about going to have me aborted. Her message to me was “Traci, you are lucky to be alive so quit complaining”. It makes my birthdays complex, for sure. (I just had mine on Monday).
My mother was also married six times. For brief moments between husbands, I was special. She was nice. She needed me. But the new guy would enter and I was cast aside. I felt unsafe and braced for the next “connection betrayal”. Debbie passed away in August of 2019, and my family, who I still feel a deep sense of not belonging, did not call to tell me nor invite me to her services.
I have done a lot of therapy around this wound. And this wound will always shape me...in painful and wonderful ways. And, we need to celebrate this together for it has made me eager to make it better for other people. It has made me eager to understand Debbie’s story of loneliness and disconnection. And it has made me eager to understand this disconnection and loneliness problem our world is creating. This is my own, hero’s journey.
Society looks and feels a lot like my family did.
The “not wanted”, “you are lucky you are alive so stop complaining” and “you are only good to me when I need you” stuff is harmful. And yet our social brains are wired to belong so we take those messages of “not being wanted” and instead hustle to fit in.
But as Brené Brown points out, when we try to fit in rather than being authentic we feel lonelier. So we find “common enemy intimacy” as an antidote. I talk about this in an upcoming documentary on Sidewalk Talk but never heard it put so eloquently.
In the recent OnBeing Interview, Brené Brown leaves us all with two actionable things to take up to change this “friggen” culture. One is inner and one is outer.
Again, the connection between people — you can’t sever it, but you can forget it. So to find moments of collective joy and pain and to lean into those, with strangers, reminds us of that something bigger. - Brené Brown
So here we are, us Sidewalk Talk listeners. We are healing in our collective effervescence together, aren’t we? The more places and spaces of belonging we can create among our volunteers of all faiths, politics, identities, races, genders, and economics, the more we interrupt this “common enemy intimacy” and feel more joyful because we remember that we belong to each other. My other hope is that we shift the culture of a sidewalk, library, bus station, subway train, or cafe to one where people who are listened to know they matter and they belong and they didn’t have to divorce themselves from their authenticity to get it.
Belonging is my dream for every human the world over.
The little kid parts of me are so proud of grown-up me for creating a world safe for her. I am glad to know you and grateful you are doing the same. I feel hopeful and you have contributed to my own healing. Thank You for that.
One important ask.
As we have grown, the kid parts of me have called me out on not taking care of them. So Sidewalk Talk has hired some folks to help me grow this movement without creating my own "internal" not belonging. If you are called, please consider making a small monthly sustaining donation so we don't have to hire fancy and expensive fundraising folks. I just learned we only need 50 more monthly donors. You may not have the cash but I suspect someone you know may want to hear my story and have $5, $10, or $20 a month to support this movement. Share this? Here is the giving link. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.