Become part of the Consequential Stranger Corps. It’s a simple idea: Better your corner of world. Scan your social landscape for a consequential stranger who needs a little help or cheering up, someone who could learn from something from you. Your gesture can be planned or spontaneous, happen in a moment or involve a longer-term commitment. You can share a new way of doing or thinking about something, make an extra meal, take a few minutes to listen, give an unexpected compliment or invitation. Then, tell the rest of us how it went. Or you can simply tell us about a CS that matters to you. Your stories and your picture will appear here (with minor editing for clarity). Please try to keep entries under 200 words–or they will be abridged! Send them to email@example.com
And don’t forget, you can also send me photos for the Consequential Stranger Collage. To view it, click here.
¤ This incredible piece came to me in an email from a complete stranger, with the subject line, “My story.” Although she’d rather remain anonymous because of her work–she describes herself as “a counselor”–the content speaks for itself. It’s a wonderful story, not just about the importance of consequential strangers, but about the magic that happens when one person reaches out to another.
I have recently been contacted by a young man who I saw lying in a park in a large city in New Zealand. I was staying with my brother and sister-in-law and from their house I could see
this young man lying on the grass. It was not a normal lying, he was on his stomach, not under a tree or anything and he was very still for a long time. So I went across to talk to him. He had been evicted from where he was living, it was the holiday period and he had nowhere to go. I brought him back to the house where we gave him tea and cake and we endeavoured to find a place for him to stay. However, all the missions were full and we were wondering what to do, when he remembered a friend who he thought he might be able to stay with. He used our phone to ring this friend and I waited with him on the street until the friend arrived to pick him up.
This was 18 months ago. He arrived this week at my brother’s house looking for me. He had, apparently, been in a very bad space that day so he had returned to the park where he had played as a boy, intending to hang himself once it was dark. He had been amazed that someone would care enough to approach him, and the fact that I was a white lady really surprised him. He turned his life around during those 18 months, and now works as a sous chef and had come to ask if we would come to his restaurant as his guests for our kindness. Unfortunately I live many hours away from there, so will just have to catch up with him when I next visit, but actually just the fact that he returned to say thank you was an amazing gift for me.
I had forgotten about this incident but it shows how being a ‘consequential stranger’ can mean life or death. I have just read the book, and been inspired by it. I work as a counselor and am so aware that my whole work is about being a consequential stranger to my clients and our community. Thank you for your wonderful work.
¤ This story is from Mary Benes, who is featured in the book. Mary, who competes in the annual MS bike ride, lives a life filled with CS–and credits much of her stamina and energy, even in the face of her disease, to people who’ve helped her out along the way. “They pushed me to go up hills I didn’t think I could make.” She returns the favor every day in her own encounters. This is a message she sent via Facebook.
Consequential story: last year, a few people were asking for Iron Mary shirts. The OK chapter of the MS Society put me in touch with a lady who lives with MS in the Oklahoma City City area. She was having major health issues (besides MS) last year but got the shirts done. She and I have talked via the phone but have never met. Fast forward to this year and May 18. Her younger brother was a Probation and Parole Officer in the Oklahoma City area and was killed in the line of duty when he went to visit a parolee (the parolee’s boyfriend ambushed him and killed him). My younger brother was a police officer in Columbus, GA when he was killed in the line of duty in 1984. Little did we know last year that this is probably why our paths crossed so I could be there when she needed someone who knew what she is is going thru. So now we have two bonds – MS and a family member killed needlessly while doing a job protecting the public.
¤ This from Jackson Goss, 28, the recruiting manager for a boutique IT consulting firm, whose grandfather sent him the book:
From what I’ve read so far, it’s very enlightening. I totally get the idea of consequential strangers. For instance, my dry cleaners, an older Korean couple, I buy them good wine and I get tea in return; we exchange gifts on occasion. I also had a developer that works for me write a nice letter in Korean so I could give it to them, basically telling them they are very kind and to keep up the good work. I see them after work and I wave, I sometimes catch the man coming from the car in the morning when I’m heading to the train and I slow down and talk to him for a minute or 2……
¤ Theresa Gallemore from Fairfax, VA emailed me about a “consequential house.” Perhaps if this happened today, and all parties understood the benefits of consequential strangers, Terry would have knocked again and the people who owned the house wouldn’t have thought her “creepy” at all.
Driving my son to his first year of preschool, I would pass a vacant lot. Over the months I noticed that it had been sold and a house was being built on it. As the year progressed, I saw that someone had moved in and made a home. The next year…I noticed that they had placed one of those large wooden cranes announcing the birth of a baby boy. I thought, how nice, he must be just 5 years younger than my son… As the years passed, I saw that they had erected a wooden jungle gym and realized the baby had grown into a toddler. [Many years later] the jungle gym was gone, and replaced with a basketball hoop [and]….the next time I saw that the hoop was replaced by a college flag. And now that is gone. My son has long since graduated himself. I once stopped and knocked on the door but thankfully no one was home. It would seem creepy I realized, a perfect stranger sharing a story of the life of their son. I had always said a little prayer for him hoping he was doing well. I never once saw a human being there. It was always just the house.
¤ In the spirit of full disclosure, Sara Fabricant is a friend of my daughter’s and my good consequential stranger! We met several years ago at a music class where both their children were participating. I had just begun researching the book and in explaining to Sara what a consequential stranger was, I remarked, “like you and Jennifer.” As Sara wrote when she sent this story below, “How lucky I am that this consequential stranger, whom I said hello to and smiled at, turned out to be such a great friend!” Sara shared this great neighborhood story with me:
I have recently been struck by a woman who picks up garbage along my street. I get up by 5:30 at least four mornings a week to exercise and, without fail, I’d see a woman carrying a plastic bag, picking up litter on my heavily trafficked street. Week after week, I’d see this woman and finally one morning I stopped to ask her what she was doing and, of course, to thank her! She told me that my street was the route she used to walk her dog along and when her dog passed, she still wanted to continue the walk. What a wonderfully selfless act. I enjoy seeing her, and of course I honk and wave every time! Interestingly enough, she does not even live in my town.
¤ Howard Liebers and I “met” by email when he submitted a photo for the collage. He works for Community Health Corps which “places AmeriCorps participants (think domestic Peace Corps–programs like City Year and Teach for America) in community health centers throughout the country…in medically underserved communities.” Below is his own story–slightly abridged.
I often think about the power of connecting with, as you say “consequential strangers,” as opposed to our immediate friends/family. Our friends/family tend to already be familiar with our work, our interests and passions, to the point where we may have already exhausted a level of engagement with those individuals. But I am also curious about that moment when a consequential stranger becomes even more than just that…when somebody provides a service for another, connecting that person with a health center, helping them find a job, suggesting a local farmers market or an exercise technique. We achieve a higher level of intimacy with people we barely know…an exchange strong enough to modify behavior. Those small acts, I believe, result in authentic change. And sometimes those recommendations are stronger because they come from people outside our more immediate circles, who are removed emotionally from the situation. It started to hit me when I was a volunteer, working with hospitals and first aid squads. I would see people I knew from the neighborhood, school, or grocery store fall ill or get injured, and I came to understand how connected we all are and how important it is that we look after one another. Now I talk to strangers, and try to lend a helping hand wherever whenever I can.
¤ Howard also passed along several stories. This is one from a Community HealthCorps member in Nashville, Tennessee who helped a frightened mother-to-be.
She was so small. The big-brown eyed girl sat in my office and cried. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what to do. This situation was huge. What could I offer her that would help? My resources are so small, I thought. Then I thought to myself…this could be my daughter. What would I want someone to do for her? I took the frightened girl’s hand and told her that there were worse things in the world than being pregnant and that she was not alone. She was scared that she was too young to be a good mother. I encouraged her and told her that she already was a good mother, because she was showing concern for her child by being in a place where she could receive prenatal care. She left my office looking shaken but believing that she wasn’t in an impossible situation. I’m proud to say that she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and because of the Mom-to-Mom classes that she attended was able to thrive with a supportive network. She now encourages other moms and sounds like an old pro. Small things really do make a big difference.
¤ I’ve said many times that if we don’t give something a name, we can’t identify or value it. So many of us are like this psychologist in New Orleans (who asked to remain anonymous). We know that we relate to, and even care about, people other than our loved ones, but never knew what to call them:
I just heard the NPR interview and I am so thankful you have added the term “consequential strangers” to my personal dictionary. Now I have a term to describe a set of emotions that have puzzled me for several years. After Hurricane Katrina, it was several weeks before we could return to New Orleans. During this time, after we were assured that all of our family members and close friends were safe, I found myself consumed with worry about the consequential strangers in my life, many of whom I didn’t even know by name. How was the dry cleaner? Was my child’s new school teacher safe? Did the house of my hairstylist flood? In the weeks after our return, I found myself profoundly grateful each time another one of my consequential strangers turned up. After hearing your interview, I now have a framework to understand that these people were an integral part of my life’s tapestry (not just the random semi-strangers I had thought they were.) This really helps me to better understand myself and my world. I can’t wait to read the book!
¤ Aaron Newman posted this on the Consequential Strangers group on Facebook, and I asked him if I could add it here. He said “absolutely” and included a photo as well, with this final note: “Thanks for creating this conversation about Consequential Strangers. It’s perfect!”
i see hundreds of people every week as a cashier at my bustling co-op grocery store. i make it a point to get past the surface, get into their world, and make a small difference with each and every one of them to take with them in their day. i am a consequential stranger!
For a few years I’ve been going to the Village Zendo every Friday for their midday hour-long sit. For various reasons I haven’t been able to go since before Christmas, until today.
Consequential Strangers is now in bookstores and available online:
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