Behind every glance, beyond every passing brush, a million memories reside. Each day, we pass by the most enthralling stories in the world: the true lives of other people. Strangers.
We spend a great deal of our lives with them. We admire a few on the beach. We’re humbled by those living on the street. Some we speak to: servers, cashiers, clients.
But we never collect more than a fragment of who they are. In the vein of the professional, we most frequently are unscathed by their troubles. We aren’t afforded the right to bask with them in their happiness.
We encounter these realities for only a moment’s time, rarely ever noticing. As we age into adulthood, our freedom to prance about without social barrier—our sheer willingness to explore—often dulls into one of those indelible hallmarks of humanity: the fear of judgment. Rejection.
The result, then, is that we grow weary of strangers. Ironically, we thrust upon strangers our own regrets and our own exuberance. Whereas the fear of judgment and rejection prevents us from knowing strangers, our isolation from these people dehumanizes them.
So, when we’re pissed off at the airport because our flight was canceled, we project our anger onto a woman who just passes along the message. A woman, perhaps, who just lost her husband, and is left with three children. A woman who, despite her own hardship, loyally endures daily abuse by passengers with a smile on her face.
We never will know who she is, but we’ll jump to show our disappointment in her—as we will with so many others—all from the safety of isolation.
I don’t mean to peg us as monsters, please understand. The innumerable people we interact with (and don’t) include myriad assumptions and outcomes.
But what happens when we break the mold? What happens when we invest ourselves in strangers?
Life won’t afford us the opportunity to know everyone we see, but it grants us the potential to do something incredibly powerful (and remarkably rare).
What I’m going to suggest may seem too much to ask—as far-fetched as it comes—but bear with me.
You see, we have these great things called faces. They show how we feel, and, to some extent, who we are.
Upon these faces, we have kissable things called lips. Group these lips with a few renegade muscles, and what we have is this shockingly-simple, day-changingly-powerful, thing: a smile.
Although it won’t always work, a smile oftentimes will be returned. And even though we cannot peer into the lives of strangers, we will know—if just for a passing glance—how they felt.