I used to be scared to connect with strangers.
I know this because for a college psychology class one week I had an assignment to smile at people I didn't know. I remember trying it exactly one time, and it feeling so awkward and embarrassing that I couldn't bring myself to do it again.
What cured me of my fear was an activity during a personal growth seminar that got repeated several times over the course of a long weekend. We would break up into pairs, sit knee-to-knee, look into the other person's eyes, and take turns listening to each other's experiences, fears, and desires.
As far as I could tell, it was awkward for everybody. But it was the assignment, and we did it, and it actually ended up feeling really good.
I learned that weekend that it is possible to experience a sense of deep connection with a perfect stranger in a matter of minutes. And it doesn't take much longer to experience that same level of connection with a whole room full of them.
We know this, of course. It happens after natural disasters, for instance, when diverse communities naturally come together to support one another.
But it doesn't require a tragedy.
At the end of my personal growth weekend, it was clear to me that anyone could have been in that seminar with me, and I would have left feeling love and compassion toward them. Since then, I've realized it doesn't even take sharing a seminar to feel that way about someone. All it takes is a positive intention and a few moments of eye contact.
Last weekend, I had the joy of participating in the World's Biggest Eye Contact Experiment on Boston Common (see the news story here and more event details here), and got to witness that same magical connection happen over and over. In a time when there is so much fear and blame in the air, it was a great reminder of how powerful, and possible, it is to create something different.
I don't need to know the specifics of your joys and struggles to know that you have them, just like I do. And the ability to remember that connects me not only to you, but to everyone else on the planet.
If you've never taken a minute to just look into someone's eyes -- and allow them to look into yours -- I highly recommend it. I would love to hear what it's like for you.