Music and the Spoken Word: Why talking to strangers can be a good thing

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This will be given Oct. 27, 2019.

As children, we are told, “Don’t talk to strangers.” That’s an important safety tip during childhood. But as adults, interacting with people we don’t know is a regular part of life. In fact, depending on the circumstances, there can be some valuable benefits to talking to strangers.

A relationship columnist for the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out that “sometimes a stranger — not a friend or a loved one — can significantly improve our day. A pleasant encounter with someone we don’t know, even a nonverbal one, can soothe us when no one else is around. It may get us out of our own head — a proven mood booster — and help broaden our perspective.” She went on to cite a research study that asked participants to talk to at least one stranger a day for five days; 99 percent reported that they found the experience pleasantly surprising, and most said they learned something from one of the strangers.

And yet we hesitate to reach out to people we don’t know. Maybe we’re afraid that we won’t be received well, that we might say something foolish, or that we may not be interesting enough. Or perhaps we feel like we don’t have the energy or time for it. Quite simply, staying comfortably in our own world seems easier. But those who try to connect with strangers are usually glad they did. 

One woman who was feeling down on her 48th birthday decided to cheer herself up by writing 48 letters to 48 strangers in 48 hours. She asked friends and family members for names of people who were sad or alone, and she wrote each one an anonymous note. She was surprised at how much love and compassion she could feel for people she had never even met (see “The Surprising Boost You Get from Strangers”).

So don’t worry if you’re not skilled at making conversation. Connecting with another person is more about caring than competence. We just have to be a little brave, interested, and open to others. Whether in a classroom, on a bus or airplane, or in the aisle of a store, we can take a moment to connect with someone. And sometimes, such brief encounters just might improve our day in unexpected ways. 

Tuning in …

The “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160 AM/102.7 FM,, BYU-TV, BYU Radio, Dish and DirecTV, SiriusXM Radio (Channel 143), the Tabernacle Choir’s website and YouTube channel and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at