A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet

I was at an interview the other day, where I met some very interesting people. To give you some context, the interview was for the position of an Assistant Professor at a well-known college in the city. There were over 60 applicants and only one panel of interviewers. And so, I found myself sitting in a room full of strangers for more than just a couple of hours.

I looked around for a friendly face, but most people were either absorbed in reading books or newspapers and others were already in groups chatting away merrily.

I stepped outside into the hallway to have a look around. The college building was certainly very impressive and reminded me of my college and the wonderful memories college holds for most of us.

A nice lady smiled at me, so I smiled back. She walked over and we struck up a conversation. I learnt that she had almost 6 years of teaching experience under her belt, and was looking for a change. I, on the other hand, told her that I left my corporate job because I realized that teaching was my calling. She was intrigued by the corporate world. She confided in me that she had never really explored the world outside of teaching and listened intently as I explained what my work at my previous job entailed. We chatted a bit more, about the weather and the economy, and she gave me some advice about teaching college students and wished me luck.

The next set of applicants were called (which included me), so off I went into the parlour to wait for my turn.

There were 5 of us sitting in the parlour. We exchanged nervous, awkward smiles.

Two of them seemed to know each other, they were chatting away nineteen to the dozen. Another lady sat very upright in a corner and stared out the window. She seemed very dignified and had an air of confidence about her that made me think that she too must have been one of the ‘experienced’ candidates.

A young girl sat near me. She looked at me and smiled nervously. Then she asked me if this was my first interview. I repeated my story to her, about the corporate job and how I came to be here. She told me this was her first ever interview and that she was feeling nervous. I tried to give her a pep talk (People who know me can vouch for my pep talks! Ha ha!). We chatted a bit, and we talked about theory subjects and research topics.

On my way back after the interview, I started thinking about these people I had met. I’d had a couple of other conversations as well with a few more people, but they were mostly just an exchange of rhetorical questions.

It amazes me to think of these connections we make with random strangers, who for a few moments are no longer strangers. We swap stories, and give each other snippets of advice, and wish each other the best, and then strangely enough go back to being strangers. We may or may not tell each other our names, we don’t know where they’re from or what they’re like as people, and we just smile, say Hi, and move on.

If you think about it, we meet so many such people. A kind stranger on the bus or the train, a polite shop assistant, a kind customer in line behind you at the ticket counter or bank, or a friendly fellow applicant at a job interview.

And yet, you will remember these people. You will remember the friendly smile you got on a bad day. You will remember the nice person seated near you on your one-hour flight, and the engaging conversation you had. I know I remember the kind lady giving me advice for my interview and my career and wishing me luck.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this – wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we became these people? If we are the friendly faces, the kind fellow passengers and the helpful bystanders. What if we could be these ‘strangers’ who helped brighten someone’s day, or be the pair of helping hands someone needed, or just the ones with whom you could have a friendly chat for a few minutes and walk away with a spring in your step?

Well, I think we’d be a happier bunch for it!

I certainly am going to try it!

So the next time you see a friendly face on your commute to work, or find a pair of helping hands when you’re in a jam, or you have a nice, happy little conversation at the supermarket, you never know, that might just be me!!

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