Elevating conversations

Passenger airplane taking off at sunset

Many of my friends have hobbies, from pickleball, making quilts, binge watching (is that a hobby?) gourmet cooking, baking, and reading.  I enjoy all these activities but one hobby I especially enjoy is talking to the person that sits next to me on an airplane.

I was curious if my activity is actually considered a hobby and it turns out it is! A hobby is defined as an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure. I travel quite a bit, so I’ll go with yes, my activity is a hobby. In fact, it’s one of my favorite hobbies.

I will say that, despite people I know insisting that they wouldn’t engage with me on a plane, I’ve never had trouble starting a conversation with fellow passengers.  It just depends on if I’m willing to take the plunge.  I like to think of it as one of my superpowers. 

Keep in mind, this has been a hobby I have had for years.  When my boys were younger, I would have a conversation on the plane or as we waited in the preboarding area. They would often ask, “Mommy, how do you know that person” and I’d reply, ”I just met them.”  They would give me a questioning look because it’s the rule that we should not talk to strangers but over time they accepted it as one of mom’s quirky behaviors.

On a side note, I now often get a phone call from them to tell me the story about someone they met at an airport.  It seems I have passed along my superpower to my kids!

I don’t just enjoy talking to people, my goal is to discover what they are passionate about and I love it when they get a gleam in their eye when they disclose something that truly brings them joy. 

I have had instances where someone has divulged something very personal.  One very tall, big grumpy man sat next to me on a small plane years ago.  I debated in my mind (yes, I often talk to myself) whether I would engage him because I got the sense that it would take a lot of energy but in this instance, it was a long flight and after a while I just couldn’t help myself. 

It turned out he was on his way home from his mom’s funeral, and he just poured his heart out about how he was feeling and told me all about his childhood.  He had  a quiet way about him, and I got the sense that this was likely the first time he had ever expressed all the emotions he shared with me.

Granted, I rarely share my name, nor do I ask them theirs, so I guess that makes them feel safe.  They may be thinking, “What the heck, I’ll never see this lady again.”

What’s great is that at the end of many of the discussions I have gotten many hugs and “I’m so glad I met you” comments. So, I like to think of it as a gift.

I did a bit of research to determine why people are willing to tell a stranger such intimate details about their lives and the article “3 Reasons We Tell Strangers More Than We Should” in Psychology Today by Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D. states that it’s caused by False Intimacy Triggers.

It appears that under certain circumstances such as sitting on a plane nearly touching shoulders with a stranger people experience a sense of intimacy merely due to proximity.  This stranger is in our personal space which is typically reserved for friends and loved ones. But being seated so close together triggers a false sense of intimacy which causes us to let our guard down and people often find themselves disclosing personal information.

Marianne and I just returned from our trip to Sedona from our First Isn’t She Amazing Retreat. I had a book club book I wanted to read but I also had 4 flights and I thought I just might want to engage. 

I decided to engage, and I had the most delightful conversations.  The first was with a young dad who had four kids and was on an online software sales guy.  After we spoke for a bit, he divulged that he did stand up comedy and then proceeded to entertain me with his jokes.  He just lit up when I would laugh and I thought, YES!  I just discovered his passion. 

In recent years I have scaled back on engaging with these unsuspecting people but I’m excited to say my mojo is back!

Through this hobby, I have learned lots of things. One is never judge a book by its cover (meaning a person) and everyone has a story they want to share. 

I often wish I had documented all the stories I have heard over the years and there are a number of these strangers stores that I carry in my heart whether it’s because they had a heartfelt story like my grumpy cowboy friend or the guy who entertained me with his jokes.

I personally feel it’s important to hear other people’s stories.  It makes them feel good and it often gives me a new perspective.  I also like to think that we each provide a glimmer to each other’s day.

Action Step:  Smile or engage with a stranger in your day.  You may hear an interesting story that will be a glimmer in your day.

Post tags: Friendships | Gratitude
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