An African proverb tells us, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
The need to belong – to feel that you have people to turn to – is so basic and so critical to mental and physical health that some scientists put it right up there with thirst and hunger. And just as we drink to quench our thirst or eat to soothe a growling stomach, we also can stave off isolation. This idea was noted and inspired by Melinda Blau in her book, “Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don’t Seem to Matter…But Really Do.”
Those closest to us are familiar, satisfying, nourishing and dependable. They enable us to survive. But to thrive, we also need “consequential strangers.” They are the casual relations you find in the other aisles of the social supermarket. Your coworkers, neighbors, yoga instructor, pastor, gym buddies and the nice lady at the dry cleaners. They all can introduce you to new ideas and novel experiences.
Studies also suggest that diverse social ties keep your mind sharp and might even help you live longer. From each person we get something different: inspiration, information, a unique bond, novelty or momentary companionship.
With consequential strangers, we’re often freer and more expressive than we are with family, where loved ones tend to typecast us. We can stretch ourselves with acquaintances and move beyond familiar roles.
By looking at the entourage of intimates and consequential strangers you’ve picked up as you’ve traveled through life, you begin to see your past and present through new eyes. You notice that in small and great ways, all your relationships matter. It helps you to know that you’re not alone. And that to me is priceless!