I grew up very shy (I know, quit laughing friends). Was it due to my needing glasses even before I got them at 10 or to the fact that at that same age of 10, I was already within an inch of my total height or was it my love of reading? Whatever the explanation, I absolutely hated speech class; had to come a bit out of my shell when I did my student teaching, but it was only as a middle-aged adult that I started interacting more with the world of people surrounding me.
I even had a reputation as “stuck up” in high school – no one ever guessed that I was simply too afraid of talking to anyone as I kept my nose in the air or in a book.
Once I started however, I couldn’t stop: hopefully I also listen as much as I talk.
This propensity to talk to most anyone, most anywhere (except whilst travelling, for some reason that is when I again regress and try actively not to talk to my seat partner: I’ll opt for the single seat if I can and if not keep my eyes shut to prevent too much nosiness) has led me to some of the most fascinating people.
Stories lie behind the facades of such ordinary-looking people: you never know if the cash register girl might not have fled from her home country as a young child, braving kilometres and dangers that we have no knowledge of; if the elegant looking older man might not have been in the cavalry of some distant country; if the sloppily dressed person might not be a physician of renown. Even if such is not the case, most have a story to tell: even those who have never left the villages in which they grew up have a wealth of history and culture to which many of us can only aspire.
In just the past months I have met a former ambassador’s wife (you think your life is exciting, how about being bombed at home – and we’re talking about in the USA); a family member of a prominent politician; someone who has actually met and conversed with people that I admire; the couple I shared the cable car with who live just around the corner of my first flat in Geneva; the lady walking her dog who, at one point, lived across the ocean from where we were now, but in the same city as my little sister; the young man who is home on vacation from his humanitarian job overseas. One would never guess from looking at any of them, the wonderful and full lives that they have led.
So, don’t hesitate, engage conversation – you never know what you might not learn, whom you might not meet: living at its best is an exchange with those who inhabit our planet.