In the course of our day-to-day lives, we may have exchanges with 5, 10 or 20 people. Most of these encounters we don’t think of as “real” interactions, but each of them is an interaction between real human beings. If you are out in the world, you most likely come into contact with a wide variety of people. The butcher at the grocery store, the server at a restaurant, or the person who sells us stamps at the post office—each of these contacts involve person-to-person exchange. We often think of people we encounter in these roles as functionaries, people who perform specific duties or functions that allow us to transact the business of life in an efficient and effective manner, rather than as human beings whose lives also matter and affect ours.

We also encounter other people—people waiting in line with us, people sharing our elevator, kids running around in public places. These incidental contacts are also potential points of connection with others. Of course, there are also the people we encounter that we feel “really matter”. They are our friends, our family members, our teachers, and people with whom we may share an activity or interest. When we encounter these people, we greet them, we ask how they are and how things are going for them, and we make conversation.

The practice of interacting with the functional and incidental people in our environment can open an undiscovered treasure of interpersonal connection. While there may be times when a speedy exchange is all we have time for, there are many circumstances when we don’t need to be in such a hurry. Even the briefest act of friendly connection can add warmth to our day and bring a small but meaningful bit of human affirmation to the folks we rely on to get through tedious tasks and those who share our spaces while we are doing them.

Questions to Discuss:

1) Were you ever in a service job where you had to help lots of people get something done? What was that experience like for you?
2) What is your usual way of interacting with the people in your life who help you transact business or with incidental people in your environment?
3) What factors influence whether you choose to connect with these kinds of people, people who are not in your personal circle?
4) Share a couple of encounters that led to something pleasurable or significant happened in your life.
5) Talk about what you get out of making these kinds of connections. Have you found any downsides to doing this?