Watching the stories go by – Random Acts of Listening

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A strange thing happened to me last year in Oxford city centre. I had just decided to leave my job and start a new career, working locally. At the time I was troubled. Would I find work ? How long could I survive on my savings ? Had I just made a huge mistake ?

I needed a coffee.

But then I decided I’d save money and do without….   As I was walking home to the bus stop, someone approached me and gave me a free coffee. Then he left before I had time to ask why…

I had just been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. And it changed my mood completely..

Random Acts of Listening

So, when I was approached by Phil Walsh to be part of an adventure in Random Acts of Listening, I was intrigued. The idea is simple: approach random people you don’t know, engage them in conversation, and let them tell their story.

It’s all part of a social movement to help people connect more, and reduced loneliness and feelings of isolation. You can find out more on Nick Heap’s blog here

Into action

And today we tried it out. A group of us met in Oxford City Centre and after a discussion about how to approach people, we all set off individually to try it out.

I believe I am a confident networker and I’m used to talking to strangers at Marketing Events. So, how hard could it be ?

Much harder then I was expecting. Identifying people to approach is fairly straightforward. Conversation starters were all around me… The couple staring at a map looking lost. The young lady in the card shop laughing at the Mother’s day cards. The man watching an impromptu performance in Cornmarket. The rough sleeper by the road. The man with the amazing hat…

Engaging strangers in conversation takes some courage, and – I’m sorry to say – I bottled it several times. And then getting people to talk about themselves is also more difficult than I thought. My bright idea of approaching a Big Issue seller – normally talkative people with fascination stories – failed miserably. The guy could barely speak English….

What did I learn ?

Phil has said at the outset that one of the key things is to get over yourself. It was only after trying it out for myself that I realised what he meant. This really isn’t about yourself. It’s about making others comfortable enough so that they tell their stories.

And what amazing stories our group had unearthed. From the man who was grieving for a loved one, to the old man wearing the same suit he had purchased in Oxfam years before as a student, to the alcoholic whose life had fallen apart unexpectedly.

What next

It’s truly liberating taking the time to stop and watch the world go by. Normally when I’m in a City I’m rushing about with a purpose, trying to get to where I need to get to with minimal interference, often absorbed in a Smartphone.  However if you just stop and look at the people, there’s a brave new world out there of amazing and fascinating people who maybe, just maybe, want to tell their story …

That’s why I definitely want to do this again

Here’s to next time !

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