If anyone out there knows Susan Dominus, please introduce us. Her stories invariably revolve around key concepts covered in Consequential Strangers. My neighbor Joan, on whom I can always rely to clip stories about consequential strangers, had saved Dominus’s piece, Happy Times at the Dog Run, Now Coming to an End (New York Times, November 7, 2009). It centered on Dick Sebastian, a surgeon-turned-dog-portraitist who, with his wife Susie, had become part of a community of dog owners’ in Washington Square Park. (It sounded a lot like “the path,” where I walk my dog in Northampton, Massachusetts.) Continue Reading »
The paradox of consequential stranger relationships is that on one hand you have something in common–a work project, an interest or activity, the fact that you both own Tibetan Terriers–but you also traffic in different worlds, which opens you up to a new perspective, or a different way of looking at the same issue. In the best situations, you’re able to take in from the other, which enhances your own thinking.
Case in point: parenting guru Ron Taffel and I live very different lives and have rarely spent time in person. But because we’ve worked on two books together (Parenting by Heart and The Second Family), over the years we have become each other’s sounding board. We talk, we exhange tid bits of our lives, and we indulge our mutual fascination with culture and trends. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that in his new book, Childhood Unbound, Ron (without using the term) exhorts parents to call on their consequential strangers–that is, to step outside their intimate spheres to connect with other parents, with teachers, with various characters in the community. While Ron focuses on families, the same benefits accrue to individuals, to members of organizations and corporations, or to entrepreneurs who reach beyond their inner circles. Living today is too hectic, too complex, and too uncertain to go it alone. And loved ones, as valuable as they might be, are not enough.
Ron and I also agree that we have something to learn from the younger generation when it comes to connecting. For years, he’s been warning parents not to underestimate the power of the peer culture–a force he dubbed the “second family.” In Chapter 7, I write about the same group, the Millennials–those Masters of the Internet (now 6 to 26) who didn’t know life before the digital revolution (or barely remember it). Cyberspace is part of the air they breathe. Online and in real life, they’ve already made more connections than some of their parents and grandparents will have made in a lifetime. If the future is about creating community in a hundred different ways, these kids are already there.
Check out all of Ron’s books–he’s one of the most original and expansive thinkers in the parenting genre. He puts it all in context. Childhood Unbound should be read by every parent and grandparent–to understand what “childhood” really means today–but also by anyone who cares about the future of this planet.