🎋 Talking to Strangers 🎋

A group of light bulbs with one glowing green.

Sometimes, life seems to be chocked full of changes. I have noticed as I’ve gotten older, they occur rapidly. Several friends passed away recently, and my wife and I have had concerns about our health lately. Quite a few of our friends and family are struggling with health problems. With all of our issues, as we age, an emerging body of research shows that talking with strangers can make us feel more optimistic, boost our empathy and sense of belonging, and give us a feeling of connection.

That explains why my attitude always is positive. As a younger man, I wasn’t that way. Still, when I met my wife in the early 1990s, I noticed she would unexpectedly start a conversation with a stranger. That may be why she was so personable and easy to be around. I tried it and discovered, to my surprise, that when I did, it made me feel good; some of the stress in my life evaporated, and I had a feeling of self-worth. Thanks in part to my wife and my wiliness to try something different to improve my life, I now have many, many friends, and I feel a vital part of the community I live in. We have several close friends, but many more make us feel welcome to enter their world as we invite them to interact in ours. 

I have become a fan of the adage, “Don’t count your money, count your friends.” Talking to strangers is easy and often results in a stimulating conversation. As a young kid with nothing to do, I learned how a friendly chat can entertain and stave off boredom. Still, I outgrew that lesson as a young adult and didn’t relearn it until I met my wife. 

Sometimes, my wife kinda wishes I wasn’t so talkative, and I know this because she has told me so 😊. I know what I say is no more important than someone else’s. I often walk away from a conversation thinking that something I said didn’t sound exactly like I meant it to, but that’s a risk you take when you’re guilty of taking too much. I’m guilty of cutting someone off before they finish their thought, and I’m working on improving in that area.

Besides my wife, I know others who talk easily to strangers. My high school classmate, Elsie Dee, whom I still stay in touch with, accomplishes that task easily. My mother was also easily engaged in conversation. I have a few male friends with that trait, my friend Reese being a good example, and so is my friend Mike. All of us must try harder to engage in conversation, whether with a stranger or a friend. We now know there are healthy dividends when we do. 

When I think about how much I engage in conversation, this quote comes to mind, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal. Hmm, that’s different from what I’m thinking 😊.   

💫 Envy is all around us if we stop to notice it. It is way more than a troublesome emotion. Psychologists believe that Envy is an emotion that has existed from the beginning of life, that it’s innate, and must be controlled. I believe that it’s an emotion that everybody possesses but to which no one admits. People readily admit to other emotions, like anxiety, depression, inferiority, etc., but Envy? We don’t admit, not even to ourselves, but above all, we keep our Envy a secret from the person whom we envy. No one I have ever known has profited from Envy. On the other hand, many have been cursed by envy. Do you remember the Biblical Cain? He murdered his brother, Abel, because of Envy. What about Joseph? His brothers sold him because of Envy.

What really is Envy? Envy is a bitter feeling which arises when we see another person has something we do not have, but would like to have. This feeling makes one desire to see the envied person hurt, disgraced, or toppled from his position. Envy is like a cancer which slowly takes over a person’s thinking, so that he feels others’ fortunes are his misfortunes; their profit is his loss, their blessing is his bane, their health, his illness, their promotion, his demotion, and their success is his failure. 

It should be noted that Envy isn’t the same as a comparison. Envy involves making comparisons, but to compare is not always to envy. You can compare yourself to another person and yet feel no envy. 

Some psychologists believe that Envy is a learned characteristic which children pick up early in life. It is especially prevalent in people who feel they are failures. Envy is almost always an expression of inferiority. Consciously, or unconsciously, the envious person considers themselves inferior to others, and he doesn’t like it when others succeed. 

Envy affects our thinking so that we look for faults in other people, and we rejoice when they fail. It influences our speech and leads us to gossip, criticize, and spread rumors that can harm others. It hinders our getting along with other people. What is worse is that Envy separates us from God, and he resents Envy!

I am reminded of this quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is a thief of joy.”

💫 My wife and I recently visited some of my high school graduates living a few hours away. We represented the 1959 (me), 1962, 1969, and 1976 classes. There was, perhaps, a dozen of us, including spouses. We all gathered at the Longhorn restaurant to enjoy a good meal and discuss our hometown and old friends. We were a noisy group, and Longhorn patrons at tables close to us could tell we were enjoying ourselves and tolerated the noise we made. It was great talking with people I knew as a teenager or was raised in or near Oakwood, VA. 

There is a special bond among people with similar pasts. Our group of graduates grew up in a coal mining community, so we grew up being pro-coal. As adults, we know that coal is bad for our environment. Still, when you consider eliminating what was responsible for your survival growing up, you face a severe dilemma. The county I grew up in had several hundred coal mines; now, it has two. Back then, the coal was extracted by going into the side of a mountain or strip mining. Today, they dig a shaft down 1,500–2,000 feet and start the process of coal extraction. Sadly, very few coal miners wear masks, so their health suffers over time. Black Lung reparation is so tricky to get it may as well not exist. Many families lose loved ones in their 50s & 60s. 

My father was a coal miner and suffered for 13 years before passing. He had two brothers that were miners, and they suffered a similar fate. 

So, all of us at our get-together several weeks ago had something in common; we had members of our family that benefitted from coal mining but suffered the consequences of that association. We prefer an alternative to coal mining, but realize how much that would affect those still depending on it for jobs. Consciously, I say let’s wean ourselves from coal, but my heart says otherwise.

I go back home every year and have done so since graduation. I plan to continue that until I’m 105 and can no longer drive 😊. When I’m there, I’m back in the 50s & 60s, and I’m home. Everyone there treats me like the Prodigal Son and welcomes me with open arms. What a wonderful feeling that is. That’s when the hillbilly in me gets to escape 😊. I think Lao Tzu hit it on the head when he said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

💫 The current internet buzz is about a new piece of software called ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer), developed by a firm called OpenAI, with financial backing from Microsoft ($10 billion). It was launched late last year and has been touted as the next “BIG” thing. 

Essentially, it’s a software model trained to follow thought and language patterns like a human does. Students at Harvard and Yale are having ChatGPT write their thesis. The sad thing is the professors cannot tell whether the student wrote the paper or the Chatbot. With that in mind, I instructed the Chatbot to write one of the three articles above to test that theory. See if you can spot which one, and if you have the inclination 😊, write me ([email protected]) and tell me which one you think it is and why. I included a quote at the end to make it more difficult since I always do it😊.