It is an amazing thing to watch how a child reacts to a situation at hand, whether surrounded by strangers, having a toy snatched from their hands, or being handled by a non-parent. Knowing they have so little experience in life affords a rare opportunity to see a person at his or her most genuine. Whether they revel in the attention of new faces, resort to shoving, or cry like a banshee reveals so much more than the long overwhelming explanations of our behaviors gained from years of therapy and introspection. Since children are so honest without any pretense, we’re more likely to forgive them for being human than we are each other.
I see a bit of myself in my nephew’s reaction to large groups of unfamiliar people. I’m most comfortable with friends who know the intimate details of my life, and though I do enjoy the company of others who don’t know me so well I have found that this depends on the mood of the moment. During dinner last night, my nephew persisted in his night-long pledge to be a whiny brat and hardly strayed from his parents until he found himself in a fit of laughter: a group of us had found entertainment in the Michael Jackson Experience dance game for the Wii and he obviously caught a show. Clapping along, he lost himself in the music and found a similarly engaged companion in me. The rest of the evening passed with smiles and delight.
I was quite the opposite as a child apparently. I was an extreme extrovert, highly entertaining in my love of singing and dancing, and strangers became best friends in minutes. That’s me without the prejudices and insecurities that life has imposed on my personality.
These days I can hardly muster a friendly chit-chat unless forced out of courtesy, though I can’t say I’ve ever regretted complying. I recall a recent interaction with a woman at Sephora who was on a quick errand run for her go-to concealer. While the clerk went in search of the appropriate color, I suggested she try a brand I had just used, finding it surprisingly more effective than the one she was about to buy. She didn’t end up taking my advice, but we commiserated about the hardship of covering up those dark circles under our eyes. Best friends in minutes.
Have you had a similar experience with strangers in your life? Going out on a limb here but I think the world would be a more pleasant place if we talked to more strangers.