On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
Do you know you are a good person?
Do you know you are valuable because of who you are, not what you do?
Do you have a regular practice of self-compassion when you forget?
What does any of this have to do with Sidewalk Talk?
Sidewalk Talk is a PRACTICE....we exist to explore, learn, grow, and deepen our practice of heart-centered listening and connection.
It feels good to be out there on the sidewalk where there is a greater diversity of people who we might not run into otherwise. Our lives are enriched by others’ stories. That is our jam - to widen our embrace to more and more different kinds of people. To diversify our inner and outer ecosystem because diverse ecosystems are the most thriving and long-living ones.
Sometimes a person plops down in a chair and they confide some pain, or some heartache, or some really big need. And it feels really really good to be a benevolent human who can connect with someone in need. It feels good to help. For Sidewalk Talk listeners it also feels good to know others struggle with life, just like we do.
There is a temptation that we all slide into that I invite us to consider a bit together. (No finger wagging or shaming anyone here. Be curious and gentle with yourself ok?)
Sometimes, inside, we volunteer because we are trying to get away from some bad feelings we have about ourselves. Guilt. Shame. A feeling of unlovability. Not enoughness. You get my drift. It is shadow stuff. And every human has shadow stuff. It is normal. I have it too.
Our work is to learn about the less kind parts of ourselves and embrace them so we can listen from love rather than lack or “connection” rather than “separation”.
Want to know what Sidewalk Talk has taught me about these shadow parts? My feelings of lack can get in the way of connection. Sometimes they can be beautiful feul for shared vulnerability if I can connect with them but often, when volunteering, they can create a barrier with someone who is sitting down to talk.
When can our own ‘not good enough feeling’ block connection?
I may need to “help” or “advise” or “fix” so I can feel good enough. Or I may need to save or rescue so I can compensate and feel “better than”. Inadvertently and quite unintentionally, I am imposing on this person that I need them to be smaller than me so I can feel better about myself. We have had volunteers show up and tell me ‘I really want to advise this person on what to do with their life. It isn’t enough to just listen.’
If you listened to my interview with Julian Plumadore on the podcast this week about listening to homeless folks, we laughed that fixing is not actually helpful for it robs that person of the agency and dignity to know what is best for them. What they need most is humble listening and someone willing to sit in the muck and discomfort together and the strength that brings allows people to organically hear their own empowered wisdom.
One of our volunteers, Barbara Myers, is perhaps better at embodying this than anyone else inside the Sidewalk Talk organization. When she listens, week after week, on the streets of San Francisco in the roughest neighborhoods, there is a trust she has in folks who sit down to share. She believes in their dignity and their wisdom.
But Barbara, as I have talked more with her, is very serious about the things she does in her life to know her value from the inside out. She doesn’t over give. She exercises. She says no to things. She prays. Jen Singer interviewed Barbara last week.
If any of us need our “listening” or “volunteering” to make up for a sense of not feeling good enough inside, we may feel like we need to go out and save people in order to feel better.
We love our volunteers feel good and enlivened from widening their embrace. We also love that their practices of self-compassion and self-exploration allow them to be more fully present. Part of serving the communities we live in is to come from fullness, love, and equality. We are serious about practicing that here.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.