On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
Yesterday I was watching Kevin Bacon talk about his hashtag #IStayHomeFor and today, my German Sister-In-Law sent me an article by Matthias Horx. My life, since moving to Germany, involves a lot of staying home. I work from home. I eat at home for all my meals. I do not have a car so leaving home must be a deliberate and intentional act. Most mornings now, I wake up, coffee in bed, and several hours of reading and pondering. Long before #IStayHomeFor was a thing in response to Covid19, it was my reality. And I am thriving in this reality.
Home is interchangeable, for me, with the word heart. “I stay in my heart for…”.
Staying “home” has allowed me to be more self-actualized, more full of a self that is not pulled so quickly into neurotics, hustling for worth, or popularity but slower, soulful, tapped into a different kind of self in community that is wider and deeper. I am getting better at saying “No that doesn’t work for me.” And “Tell me what is happening for you.”
You can imagine I show up at Sidewalk Talk differently from this place. I can feel the usual pulls to go fast, hustle, be relevant according to external standards and then home calls me back. I get a call from an organization to partner, I get self-righteously angry at more white male-led connection projects gaining traction with little awareness of gender or racial bias, or external feedback that I am not a good spokesperson for connection because I am too old, too uncool and I get grumpy and testy...I am hooked to the demands of a homeless self.
But home calls me back. “Come inside Traci. Come rest here in truth.” Maybe home has called me for years and I would hear whispers but now I am in deep dialogue every day with home. I am no longer ok with my own homelessness. I often wonder if the physical representation of our internal state, homelessness on the streets, will ever be solved if we have not come home to ourselves.
This morning, my heart insisted, again. It said “don’t get online”, “Traci make time for your inner ponder”, “Traci come home”. I read Pia Melodie, Jan Gehl, Michael Lehofer, Matthias Horx, Dick Schwartz and took notes and looked out the window, pondered, wandered, and wondered. It is a privilege to have this space. A privilege I want for everyone.
My heart is now filled, ready to write and be in community with you, here on this page. When I finish, I will go outside and run through the trees in the forest with my son, still at home, but outside my home. And then I will have dinner with my family, still at home. And then I will call a friend, still at home.
While I feel worried about the sick and our ability to societally act with leadership and community in this Covid19 pandemic, I also have to admit, this quarantine has quenched something deep in me. For years, I have longed to see heart-centered living where self and community get to dance together on a massive scale. Putting chairs on sidewalks was never about fixing or helping people or promoting therapy.
Listening on sidewalks was a protest I was waging with myself and the world.
A protest that was calling me to “value heart” “stay home” and asking the society to value home and heart with me.
My deepest longing is to have beautiful, vibrant, self-actualized people, with bountiful differences, supported by a societal infrastructure that privileges us all equally to be in community from heart. I practice a kind of therapy that is about finding one’s way home, not addressing baseline symptoms to thrive better in a broken world. Listening is the jumping-off point - it is the starting line.
Listening is the lighthouse in our homeless storm. We were never meant to get good at living cast about on an upset sea.
Often, in these circumstances, we cannot get home without someone walking us there, holding the life raft steady, as Ram Dass so lovingly says.
#IStayHomeFor #IStayInMyHeartFor a world where we all can be in community with our beautiful self-actualized selves. What are you staying home for?
Head and heart are often in a tug of war inside of me. Especially right now. You too? So is fear and love. So is knowledge and wisdom. And so is aloneness and togetherness.
My heart, when I am living from it fully, is filled with birdsong, spring flowers, love, deep sorrow, righteous outrage, and unrequited longing. Inside heart-space is a nondual richness of all things that anchor me to meaning and community and from which my wisest decisions are made. And, truth be told, I inhabit this heart space twenty percent of my day. Still a victory from just a few years ago.
Today, as the world has slowed to a halt and everyone is advised to remain in their homes, the radical shift in what I see out there on city streets has spread me inside in many directions. I am cast about by my nerves, my hopes, my fears, and my faith. More than anything, I can observe, more concretely the faulty lense I knew was there but is now so visible it is like the dust on the bookshelves I cannot unsee once the full light hits them. This new awareness teaches me to quiet my chattering mind and return to my heart over and over again.
My heart is beaming with possibility for massive spiritual and communal awakening and it asks my ego to sit this one out, and go deeper.
Remaining full-hearted takes great care, I have learned. In fact, great GREAT care. To not get swayed by my own neuroses or the world’s neuroses require me to pace myself and ask with heart ‘what is my deepest intention right now?’ For that question always leads me back to the resilience of love rather than hatred and fear.
What I have learned most is self-care is not for soothing, comfort, and avoiding. Self-care is for remaining in my heart and facing.
Last week, I had a 40-minute conversation with Mark Nepo. Mark, for me, lives longer in these spaces of full-heartedness - where wisdom, knowledge, poetry, and longing collide. He is a prolific writer and people with large platforms like Oprah Winfrey (wisely I might ad) have invited him to share his heart with the world. My favorite thing about Mark is his poetry, humility, and equality in how he writes. He invites in the wisdom of indigenous cultures white colonizing history has devalued. He roots spiritual teachings in history so we have a context that prevents feel-good spiritual bypassing.
The conversation Mark and I had for the Sidewalk Talk Podcast did not record. I was sad, at first, but then oddly grateful. There were a couple sweet moments of our dialogue where “audience” dropped away and our conversation was private. Mark advised me about my first book and how to write it. He talked to me about pacing myself and living my pace, not the world’s pace.
My hope is we get another chance to come together but for now, what I want to invite us all to do over this time of “staying inside” is to go buy and read Mark’s book, More Together Than Alone. For every single listener at Sidewalk Talk and any other connection project, take this time to immerse yourself in what it means to be in community, for real. Even if you can’t get out of doors, you can get the book digitally. This book is a life work and took Mark longer to write than any of his other books. He covers history, politics, gun violence, love, hope and most of all, community. But more than anything it offers us something for this moment in time.
As we are immersed in avoiding a spreading contagion, called Covid19, what contagion we really need to heal from is how we, as Mark says, make anyone different an enemy.
How a lack of empathy and hearing one another’s lived stories leads us to consume each other, like shoes to wear and throw away when we are done with them. It is not time for one power to demand we follow a specific set of rules for how to be a person so we might live together. It is time for us to listen so deeply to our differences that we create a way to live together that honors who we all are. Bottom-up, rather than top-down community.
And it is happening. As I see Italian neighborhoods singing on their balconies, doctors and nurses working overtime, musicians offering free concerts, workplaces honoring workers in new ways, and even how we organize here at Sidewalk Talk, perhaps some of this will stick.
Perhaps our contagion of othering and usury will be replaced by heart, empathy, community, and inclusion.
That is my hope anyway. For now, I will start with me and cultivating this awareness here, with me first.
I would love to hear your favorite quotes from More Together Than Alone in the comments or what you hope will be a lasting positive impact from this time of global inwardness.
May we have health.
May we know our hearts.
May we know others’ hearts.
May we create a society that honors all hearts living together.
Sidewalk Talk chapter leaders around the world sit out on public sidewalks to change our culture to a connection culture. We aim to remain heartfelt and intentional so we can create hopeful connections while we all follow the WHO guidelines and local health guidelines during our community recovery from Coronavirus.
Let’s connect now. We would love to hear how you are taking care of yourself in the comments.
In the coming days, start a dialogue on our Instagram and Facebook prompts on all kinds of topics to keep us connecting.
We find some of the best of humanity and ourselves when we face new challenges together. Try something with me? In your mind’s eye, right now, imagine people cooperating and pitching in to find ways to support each other. Get some images of people taking food to someone in need, or keeping someone on quarantine company on the phone. See the class of second graders writing letters to elderly patients to “get well”. Fill out this scene in your mind and let it fill every cell of your body. Breathe in and out with this image several times.
Now be one of these helpers out in the world in whatever way you can.
I am kinda curmudgeonly, most days, but when shit hits the fan my heart just gets plugged into some massive source of hope and love so I am kind of floatin’ around like the neon love balloon again. Maybe we can be neon love balloons for each other right now.
Here is a fun TedX Talk on the direct impact our mindset has on our health. It has loads of very geeky science stuff.
May we be well.
May we be hopeful.
May we be intentional with our mindsets.
May we be helpers.
Sidewalk Talk Official Policy on Coronavirus
I do not have a lot to write today. I just want to invite us all to stand in what Parker Palmer calls righteous speech. There were primary elections in the US and many people are feeling disillusioned by the results.
I am watching, on social media, the opposite of righteous speech and instead self-righteous lecturing and “get over it” stuff.
We have an opportunity, as a community, to be salve be using our Sidewalk-Talk-style listening. We can HEAR each other with heart.
Will you join me in showing up differently?
Will you ask how someone is feeling and stay to hear?
Listen with the Sidewalk Talk HEAR model.
Maybe you will not only create salve for another human feeling a lot, Maybe you will learn something new by listening to another’s heart.
We are all susceptible to blind spots. Happily, I am the kind of person who likes to share mine, so you can have a good laugh, feel like you aren’t alone, and be more willing to look at your own human foibles. I am told this is my secret sauce. Yay for imperfection. We are rockin’ it out together!
This week I was reflecting with Nevada Sidewalk Talk Chapter Leader, Michael Tedesco (thanks Michael). We were both challenging each other and empathizing with each other on different aspects of leadership we both struggle with so that we could support one another in growing. It is so nice when folks can just be bold with you. The leaders crew here are some of my favorite because there is an earnestness to keep on growing through self-reflection, self-responsibility, and dialogue.
Being an earnest human who wants to look at their flaws takes one large sense of humor.
Doing flaws well also takes the ability to take an inventory without shame. I like to make lists of my mistakes and then think through what I can change and what I am just going to have to say “Um that is me and probably will be a flaw I go to the dirt with” so people can feel empowered to choose if I am their cup of tea and I don’t spin my wheels trying to please everyone.
Here is my list of mess ups around connection from the last few weeks. Have a laugh and then make your own. It is really good practice.
1. Believing that people, life, and the world should be a certain way.
When someone uses a tone of voice we don’t like, doesn’t call us back, or is unfair we may want to “should” all over the situation. They should NOT have done x, y, and z. In the podcast with Dr. Christian Conte, he talked about cartoon world and real world.
The more we deny the hard truth of the real world the less likely we are to respond in any sort of connective fashion.
I am not saying not to set limits. Actually, the opposite. But, I notice I have no problem setting a limit when I don’t expect every person to just follow my own inner set of standards. If I get caught up in a “They should have x, y, z” I may be too damn righteous to bother dialoguing. You see how this works?
By assuming, I cut off dialogue. Not great for connection and intimacy.
2. Be clear and up front about what you need in the moment. You might wonder, “But Traci, isn’t that selfish? How does that have to do with connection?”
I will throw it back to you with a question. Have you ever not been clear with someone that they should ‘please take your shoes off before coming into my house’ only to later find mud tracks all over your white carpet?
How did you feel about that person when they didn’t notice they had left a trail of mud in your house? More connected? More intimate? I didn’t think so.
Ok, maybe it is a bad metaphor but usually, when we aren’t clear about what we need, we are not protecting our connections with others, we are jeopardizing them. See how that works?
I had a tech job that I liked but I got so pissed because I was in a new territory that wasn’t making any money. I tried to quit but in a lengthy dialogue with the CEO he confronted me. He said “Traci, you have a right to be paid what you are worth. Rather than getting mad, you could shared what you needed to be financially whole. I support you demanding a raise.”
I left his office with a massive life lesson and a 20% - YES TWENTY- percent raise.
3. Not setting limits and not receiving limits.
First, I must attribute my use of the word limits to Michael Tedesco. For ages, the word boundaries, for whatever reason, conjures images of walls – static, unchanging, rigid, and cold. Limits, however, feels flexible and contextual.
Here is the rub. After the person from above has walked on your carpet with muddy shoes, if you still do not ask them to take off their shoes, again you jeopardize intimacy and connection with them and, frankly, with yourself. Only bad feelings can emerge.
And I get it. We don’t set limits because some folks react to them and we want to avoid their reaction. But their reaction lets you know you have been heard, as Randi Buckley often says (she is the boundaries master and will be coming on the podcast soon).
Reacting to limits and even judging folks as unreasonable for setting limits is so disruptive to connection.
Magic wand wish? This whole “You are unreasonable for needing what you need and having the limits that you have” is the one thing I would swap for “We all get to have needs and limits and communicating them IS connection".
Am I good at setting limits in clear, kind ways?
Am I good at receiving limits in clear, kind ways?
What assumptions do I make about the other person in that whole giving and receiving limits process?
My hope is we can all do better at this connection stuff. That our hearts can stretch wide with love in these hard spaces and keep trying.
Sidewalk Talk has grown in leaps and bounds over the last year and a half. We’ve more than doubled our number of listeners and Chapter Leaders as well. We have 89 Chapters in 15 countries, with more than 7000 listeners holding events every day.
We are so grateful to our listeners and Chapter Leaders who organize events, haul out the chairs, hang up the signs and listen to those who have something to say. Their dedication and willingness to sit out in the cold is the absolute backbone of this organization, and it’s how the whole thing got started!
But what if you don’t have a chapter near you? What if you can’t lead a chapter due to time constraints or health conditions? We get Instagram and Facebook comments every day asking for other ways to support the organization.
Here’s the exciting news: We have room for you too.
Announcing, the Sidewalk Talk Ambassador Program!
You told us you wanted to help, and we’ve come up with a fun way for you to join the team!
Follow this link to sign up. Once you do, you’ll get an ambassadors badge graphic that you can share far and wide to show the world you’re behind us. From there, you will receive an email each week with a mini task that you can complete in minutes to help us grow.
Will you join us as an ambassador?
Most of us are on the hunt to feel better, feel more excited, and feel inspired in some small way every day. We pay big bucks or go to great lengths to find more excitement and good feeling.
I am with you. Life can hem us into boring routines or busyness that make us feel like we are robots on auto-pilot.
What if there were a way that was fast, free, and easy to pack more good feeling and excitement into your day to day life?
Monday I had to call AT&T to switch out my office internet. Ok, I am laughing. I am only imaging you are wondering where this is going. Stay with me.
For those of you outside the US, AT&T is a big company that offers phone and internet service. Calling any big company is a daunting task as you are sure to be on hold for a long time and often have someone disgruntled on the other end pick up your call.
I get through and a young woman answers, named Jolynn, to help me out. Because I am living in Germany now, none of my ways to confirm my identity were going to work for various reasons. Jolynn apologized and said, "I am sorry, Traci, but this is going to take awhile."
So here we were, hanging out on the phone, waiting for her to punch in all the things she had to punch in, a moment that often turns adversarial, but then Jolynn did something.
She asked me a question. And she was genuinely interested in my response.
"So why did you move to Germany?" she asked.
"I moved for love" I said.
"You did? How did you meet this person?" Jolynn said.
"He was the nerdy foreign exchange student in high school that I had a crush on. We lost track of each other for 12 years and then, out of the blue, he called my father and asked him for my phone number and came to California for a visit."
"You are kidding me?" she said.
"No, I swear." I laughed.
"Wow after twelve years. And how long have you been together?" she said and I could hear her grin, as she typed away.
"We have been married seventeen years."
Our conversation flowed. I asked her all sorts of questions about her life. She shared. She was young. Single. Not so sure there is a partner out there for her. We had little bond going on.
Jolynn kind of made my day and I think I made hers.
And all she had to do was ask a question and be genuinely interested.
I could feel her celebrating with me. Taking pleasure in my story. Being moved. And then I was equally moved to hear about her.
Her questions and genuine listening created a whole new world of possibility.
New York Times Journalist, Kate Murphy, has a new book called, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters that is making the rounds on talk shows and podcasts. You can check out her own article about her book here.
Murphy says learning to ask the right questions leads to the talker revealing way more than they normally would. And if you follow up with a lot of good listening and genuine interest, you are sure to get a more fulfilling story and, as research shows, a greater sense of connection.
I think Jolynn asked me some great questions that would have made Kate Murphy proud. And I obliged. I opened up and walked down memory lane with her and she got to be a passenger on that romantic joy ride with me.
So look - go to the spa. Spa's are nice. Go get that sweet treat or check out the latest rom com. But maybe, just maybe, if we all asked really good questions and were genuinely interested, there is a lot more joy and excitement to be served up with very little cost or effort.
On your way to get a sandwich? Ask the person making it something. Make it a good one. "What is the weirdest type of sandwich you have ever made?"
Give it a try. And come share in the comments how it goes.
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 couples therapist, as you know by now. I spend a LOT of time encouraging active listening and empathy between spouses. Important work, slowing the pace down of a heated fight using reflection and mirroring. That slowing down, can, but not always, open heated arguers up to a larger perspective and even empathy for the person they are arguing with. It is beautiful, when it works.
Active listening alone, cannot bring about real connection.
I had a co worker some years ago who was brilliant at active listening. Weirdly, I never felt connection to her. It was a technique she used to protect herself from getting too close. Not to get closer.
Some people use active listening and mirroring to avoid connection.
"How is this even possible?" you might ask. Connection is about how you, as the listener, show up to the dialogue - not how well you mirror. Nor is connection about how vulnerable, personal, or deep the talker goes. You heard Dr. Rosmann and I talk about this on this week’s podcast.
So what are we actually to be doing, then, if we are not just “reflecting”, “mirroring”, and “active” listening?
1. We are coming with open curiosity and total surrender of our opinions.
2. We bring a massive amounts of faith and trust that in this curious place of connection something quite profound and soulful can emerge.
That's right. I did just say faith and trust must accompany the our very deep surrender and open curiosity.
I knew this in my bones from listening on the sidewalk but when Dr. Rosmann and I spoke, she put words to it and my heart beamed. And being the visual thinker that I am, I drew us all some pictures.
May we all keep opening up in our connections and have faith the soulfulness that tcan emerge!
Judging someone is a real bugger.
Judgment prevents us from connecting as people. And it kinda makes us sick.
Not proudly, I judge people all the time. And I am not always aware when I am doing it. Sidewalk Talk and being married have both been my biggest teachers for being a better human.
A dear friend, Jamie McHugh, shared a quote with me,
“Judgement and anger are always a signpost of an unmet need.”
This quote reminds me of training I did with Marshall Rosenberg in 2005.
“Great so I have an unmet need, I am still mad and I’m judging and blaming the other person for it. What is your point, Traci?”
Let me tell you a story that will help this all come to life.
I see couples for therapy in the evening. Three nights I week I get home after ten pm and it is pitch black out and finding the door, getting the key in the lock...it is impossible if the porch light isn’t on. One week, my husband forgot to leave the porch light on for the third time. I was very snarky and judgemental when I got in the house. “He is so lazy.” “He is so selfish.”. “He is so ..fill in the blank.”
Because I love my partner, I am motivated to dig beneath the surface of my snark and I try to dialogue with the parts of me that are so upset rather than being a self-righteous jerk to him. “I am so sorry you are upset, Traci. What is the truest truth here? What most tender need didn’t get met by your husband that you can share tenderly with him rather than lambast him?”
To figure out what the heck is up with me I first need to close my eyes, feel the tension of the judgment and anger in my body and let my care and compassion for my hurt melt it a bit and then the real tender hurt part of me reveals itself.
My judgment and self-righteousness was a way I was trying so hard NOT to feel my vulnerability. A part of me felt forgotten and unimportant - an old wound indeed. (No wonder it was hotter than the situation called for.)
A few minutes later I got in touch with my need for nurturance and consideration. And whamo, I am free and open and available for a connected dialogue with my husband that has nothing to do with making up some judgemental story about my guy, nor using some “heady” 1, 2, 3 steps for better dialogue.
Heart-centered listening fixed my whole judgemental sassy stuff.
In my years of practicing this kind of heart-centered listening and dialogue it doesn’t always work out, though. My husband may still forget to leave the porch light on. Or, in some instances, other folks I have shared my tenderness with rebuke with pep talks to “get over it” or “go meditate” or “count to 4 and the feeling will shift” instructions. Some folks will not honor our tenderness and vulnerability, ever and that painful truth we can also be heart-centered with.
None of this is about getting the other person to change.
It is about us being heart-centered, even when the world around us cannot. That is why such simple acts of dialogue and connection are WAAAAY more than reflective listening. Reflective listening is a technique. Being heart-centered is a state. And it is a radical, life-altering, world-transforming state to walk around the world in.
Will you join me in using our own hearts to melt our judgments by getting clear what is really true in our most tender places inside?
From those tender places we can learn to be tender with all the different parts of ourselves and tender with all the different people in the world and do right by them. That is what we are practicing at Sidewalk Talk but you don’t have to come listen with us to practice. You can start right now, today.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.