The Consequential Stranger Collage

Face/book

Face/book

The Consequential Stranger Collage  started out as an experiment. It is still a work-in-progress. Originally,   it was listed on the Facebook Consequential Strangers group page as an “event” (to read more about why, click here).   orange-toes

All that’s required to participate is a digital camera or a cell phone with a built-in camera. Go into your nearest bookstore, find a copy of the book, and ask a staff member or a fellow customer to take a picture that, of course, shows the book.  Be creative as you want, capturing yourself, a loved one, or the stranger who just might become a consequential stranger.  If you ordered the book online, take the picture at home, at the gym, in the supermarket, or wherever your daily life brings you. I won’t use names, only images. Emailing it to me (melinda@consequentialstrangers.com) or posting it on Facebook constitutes your permission to post it in both places.   I’ll keep adding, if you keep sending!

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CS Goddess

CS Goddess

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Wow! What a book!

Wow! What a book!

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I read it three times.
I read it three times.

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The Dalai Lama Said It First

In response to An Experiment Worth Trying (May 28), a reader–Cecile–left this reply.   When I visit other bloggers’ sites, I sometimes don’t read all the comments after a post, and I have a feeling I’m not alone.  I didn’t want this one to be missed:

Someone – a CS – sent this to me in a group email years ago. In the late 90’s, the Dalai Lama shared a practice (below) with a group of visitors that he said will increase loving and compassion in the world. Lately I’ve been practicing it more consistently with strangers — shop clerks, airline co-passengers, medical receptionists, etc. The benefits are immediate and profound. My own experience tells me that this practice helps lift depression.

THE DALAI LAMA’S PRACTICE OF COMPASSION

1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering we all want the same thing (to be happy and loved) and we are all connected.

2. Spend 5 minutes cherishing yourself and others. Let go of judgments. Breathe in cherishing yourself, and breathe out cherishing others. If the faces of the people you are having difficulty with appear, cherish them as well.

3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet – we are all the same, and I cherish myself and you (do it with the grocery store clerk, the client, your family, coworkers, etc.].

4. Stay in the practice, no matter what happens.

Social Networker or Snake-Oil Salesman?

The question that seems to be on the lips (including my own) of any person or company that wants to use social media to get a message out is:  How do you reach out to people–strangers, consequential strangers, or close friends–without coming off as a snake-oil salesman?  (Sorry guys, although I normally prefer the non-gendered “salesperson,” have you ever heard of a snake-oil saleswoman?)  From my personal and very limited experience, here’s my best advice (subject to change, of course, as everything in the Internet age is):

Welcome diversity
. Seek out connections who are different from you given any of the usual parameters of difference: class, race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, age, occupation.   This will connect you to people who have different ideas.  In the last several months, mostly because I’m open to it, I’ve “met” men and women of all ages–people who are thinking about new concepts that might have taken me years to discover and whose opinions are different from my own.  This has allowed me to build “bridges” to new communities where I find resources and a fresh perspective.  I can then pass those ideas onto others.  Otherwise, I’m just sitting here recycling my own ideas, which gets both stale and boring.

Position yourself as a collaborator
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Thanks to thetechnology, it’s possible to communicate 24/7.   Ask not ask what others can do for you unless you’re also willing to help them with their projects. Comment on their blogs, retweet, recycle–and give them credit.  Social media should not be about numbers of “followers” or “friends” or how many people we have in our social convoys.  It’s about connection.  Admittedly, some of our online social ties barely qualify as relationships.  You might visit a website only once because you happen to see an idea that intrigued you.  But take the extra minute and add your two cents–and it will probably come back to you.

Be sincere.
Not that there’s anything wrong with profit and gain (as Seinfeld might have put it), but they can’t be your only motives. If you’re connecting with people only to better the bottomline, get more bodies into your church or store, or convince people to buy your book, they’ll catch on sooner rather than later. And they’ll probably desert you.  Everyone’s busy, everyone has an agenda.  And while social media has increased the possibility of getting large numbers of people to pay attention, it has also made us a little more selective, if not skeptical.   In my opinion, instead of figuring out “schemes” and “strategies,” just be…yourself.

Learn from people who’ve been there. It’s hard to believe but social network media dates back only a few years.  And before we had the software to allow us to be in touch with our convoys, there were internet communities and other precursors of what is now exploding on the Internet.  Here are some of the people/sites that have given me the best understanding of what it’s all about.  Start with Nancy White’s excellent blog, “How I Use Social Media.”  It’s one woman’s journey, but Nancy has been there from the beginning.   I’ve also found Pete Cashmore’s Mashable an invaluable resource for understanding what various social network sites are best for and how individuals and companies are using them.  Best of all, the site speaks to beginners as well as veterans of the net. I’d also suggest reading anything by Barry Wellman or Howard Rheingold.   They’ve both been looking at internet communities for decades; reading their papers and blogs is like getting a crash course in how we got here.  If you have any favorite people or sites, please include them in your comments.

Spend social currency not money. If you’re still uneasy about the new media, you might be tempted to hire one of the so-called experts out there–you’ll come across many of them.  Their blogs and tweets promise to teach you “how.”  And perhaps some of them can help, but it’s important to remember that no one knows “the best way” (or even the five best ways) to reach out to your people.  So why not begin by spending social energy rather than money? It might sound kind of old-school and not very flashy, but the best idea might be to just get out there yourself, find a slice of common ground, and connect–one consequential stranger a time.

Foreverism: The Baby Whisperer Lives On

A few days ago, I received an email reminding me that Tracy Hogg’s birthday is August 8th.  That email was a manifestation of  what trend-watcher Reinier Evans calls foreverism:   “…countless individuals are building online profiles and relationships that are potentially ‘forever’…”

I can’t remember the name of the free site that I signed up with several years ago, but thanks to their reliable emails I never have to forget anyone’s birthday, not even my consequential strangers’.  (Ironically, in parsing the difference between CS and good friends, I often remark that a CS doesn’t get insulted when you forget her birthday! So much for birthdays as a yardstick. )

The trouble is, the birthday reminders keep coming, even after the person is no longer here to celebrate.  But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Tracy–the Baby Whisperer–whose work and wisdom filled three books, succumbed to esophageal cancer at the untimely and unfair age of 44 (just as we were about to write a fourth book together).  The email was like some sort of digital yahrzeit candle, making me feel the loss and reflect on our five-year collaboration.  (I suspect as more of us rely on social media to keep in touch, online memorials will take numerous forms and become more common.  For example, read Adam Cohen’s touching New York Times editorial, “A New Kind of Memorial for the Internet Age.”)

Tracy and I had a close–and complex– relationship, and yet, we never went beyond consequential stranger territory.  We were twenty years apart and from different worlds.  Our paths would never have crossed–she the Yorkshire lass with the hardscrabble life, me the privileged New Yorker.  And yet, I was able to capture her on paper, so accurately that she cried when she read the first page I wrote in her voice. Tracy and I would never have spent the holidays together, but we shared a great deal of time and conversation.   She was the star nanny; I was her voice.  We needed each other.  I was her “shrink”–I asked many personal questions that she loved to answer–and she my family baby whisperer.  I remember fondly how Tracy talked my daughter through the occasional rough spots with her new baby–my first grandson.

tracy-and-girlsI wish Tracy could have gotten to know my other two grandsons. I wish she could have watched her own two daughters grow up. I wish I could talk with her about consequential strangers–she would have loved the concept.  And I wish that Tracy– who was firm with parents but never mean, wise but never a know-it-all–had lived to eclipse those stern television nannies who rushed in to fill the void.  (At least, viewers in the U.K. got to see her on the Discovery Health network.)  But most of all, I wish she could see that her dream, of building a community of “mums” who would give each other support, has come true in ways she couldn’t have imagined in 2002.   Her website lives on and, more recently, her fans created a group on  Facebook, as one of the founders explained, “so we’d have a place to go to when the Baby Whisperer site is down.”  This, too, is an example of foreverism:  Tracy will be eternally alive in those mothers hearts as they trade her tips and use her techniques.

Tracy, we all miss you.  Happy birthday forever.