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Turning Strangers Into Friends

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As we start a new year, I’m struck by how thankful I am to live here in the Kansas City region. Sure, this country is full of unique cities, both large and small, with colorful character and a lot of attraction. But there’s something about home – about this city – that makes me glad I was raised here, that I’m raising my family here.

I think one of the primary reasons is the feeling of family and friendship. Yes, we have more than a million people across the region, but in many ways it feels like a small town. Probably like many of you, I was delighted (but not surprised at all) when so many Mets fans had such good things to say about the hospitable reception they received from Kansas Citians during the World Series. One local woman shared popcorn with an opposing fan at one game and made good friends with another at the next. Even months after the series, I still get such a warm feeling when I read those stories. Heck, it was even newsworthy in New York! Makes me proud of my city.

New Perspective

It also makes me realize how easy it is to turn a stranger into a friend—or at least help you to look at that person a little differently. In 2014, photographer Richard Renaldi published a book called “Touching Strangers.” Renaldi would approach two or more strangers on the street in towns and cities across the country and convince them to pose together for a portrait. But this was no ordinary portrait, he would position the subjects in an intimate proximity usually reserved for friends and family: maybe holding hands, embracing or touching in some way. You can see a myriad of emotions and reactions on the subjects’ faces—apprehension, embarrassment, comedy, boredom, even comfort. For a few moments, these people forget they’re strangers and allow themselves to welcome another person into their personal space and into their lives.

  (Photos: Richard Renaldi)

In the introduction to Renaldi's book, Teju Cole writes,

“The images play with the illusion of straightforwardness and testimony, and at the same time find their ways to precisely those values. Between the moment when a stranger is approached on the street and the moment when a print is made, some transformative magic takes place.”

As I flip through the pages, I find myself imagining the back story for each of these people, making up stories about their lives. The book helps me reevaluate how I see people who may be different from me. One reviewer remarked that the photos, “offer a refreshing perspective on the question of modern detachment.” That idea of how our society is becoming detached is very powerful. It certainly makes me want to put my smartphone down and connect one-on-one, face-to-face. 

New Relationships May Mean New Benefits

Stephanie Vozza reported in a Fast Company article that most of us speak to strangers only about 2 to 3 percent of the time. And we might be missing out, she says:

"It’s sad because the secrets to the majority of your future successes are waiting outside your immediate network. It’s where the gold is."

What I get from this notion is the need to reach outside my current comfort zone of people and relationships. There's a benefit to me (and probably you, too). By expanding my network and social circle, I meet new people from different backgrounds, with different experiences, who may help me reach my personal and professional goals. But I'll never know if I don't take some risks, and as the old AT&T slogan used to say, "Reach out and touch someone."

New Year Approach

As I think about some goals I have for myself for the new year (I hate to call them resolutions because they’re so easy to break!), I want to find ways to touch strangers myself. No, no, I’m not going to find someone on the street to hug, but I watch how our associates at the bank do such a great job of building strong relationships and friendships with our clients. Someone who comes in as a stranger is soon a person we call our friend. I want to do more of that in my own life. Strangers are simply friends I haven’t made yet.

Chances are, we have more in common than we think. Just like those two baseball fans, I bet we both like popcorn.

What are some of your personal and professional goals for the new year? Tweet us @CountryClubBank to share your thoughts!

Author

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Mary O'Connor

Executive Vice President- Logistics

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