Getting to Know the Familiar Stranger
April 11, 2016—Last week I had two interesting conversations with familiar strangers. By “familiar strangers” I mean those people we have become comfortable around because of propinquity yet don’t really know. You know them, people at work we see every day but to whom we say only “Hi” and “See you tomorrow.” Or, those people at church we greet every week because they sit near our pew whom we nod to, or to whom we’ve “passed the peace” but of whom, if asked, we could not tell the names of their children or what they do for a living.
As often happens, those familiar strangers can turn out to be very interesting people, with life stories that verge on the adventuresome. Such was the case with my two conversations. Both left me saying to myself, “Wow. You never know.”
Allen Shawn, in “Family Meal” (June 22, 2008, New York Times Magazine) wrote “It is amazing how much people contain that we never have a chance to know about, how vast and mysterious we all are.”
Read his short piece about a family story.
We often believe people don’t live lives as significant as ours, or, that they live lives larger and more colorful than that which we experience. Both are true to some extent, of course. Either way, taking the time to learn the stories of people’s lives and to share the inner lives of those close to us, even familiar strangers, can be enriching, inspiring, and humbling. Are there familiar strangers in your life worth getting to know better?
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.