Bonding with strangers

These unconscious processes often involve depriving strangers of their humanity.
Bonding with strangers

KOCHI: A distinct reality of modern life is the overwhelming fear of strangers. According to Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, the fear of encountering strangers is the reason why urban architecture features more gated communities than public parks.

These unconscious processes often involve depriving strangers of their humanity. That is how it becomes easy to ignore a footpath dweller or even dissociate from the crowd during public transit. But sometimes, the realisation that everyone around you has a life as vivid and complex strikes you. 

Author Joe Koenig who compiled The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which houses words for emotions we cannot put a finger on, called this awareness ‘Sonder.’ It is in the spirit of Sonder that Humans of Kerala (HoK) organised their first Human Connect event in Kochi. 

HoK is a platform that started shortly after the 2018 floods to document the resilience, dreams, and stories of Malayalis. From stories of our fishermen to an interview with Oommen Chandy, HoK has cast the net wide to capture the essence of being human in Kerala.

Held at One Little Earth on June 23, HoK’s event featured a human library and a stranger connect session. The latter involved blindfolded conversations with a stranger to shedding biases and inhibitions to encourage honesty. Participants were given prompts to share the lowest and highest points of their life, along with their insecurities and achievements. As the conversation took place under the condition of anonymity, they were told to share an alias.

According to HoK co-founder Anit Maria Thomas, the event was engineered to evoke empathy with strangers. “Every story is impactful, and everyone has something to share. We aim to create spaces bereft of shame and guilt. We want to show that connecting deeply with someone you just met is possible,” Anit says. This sentiment resonated with the participants too. One of them said, “I shared something personal, my insecurity. While my ex-partner had always judged me for it, the stranger responded with empathy. It was heartening.”

Other participants also disclosed that hearing people’s stories of overcoming life’s biggest challenges reassured them. “I felt like I wasn’t alone. Having someone to listen to you and tell you their similar experience felt like a weight being lifted off my chest,” another participant said.

They were also given postcards to write messages to their pair after the conversation, reaffirming the interaction. The positive feedback has prompted HoK to expand the project to all other cities and towns in Kerala. Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode are currently under consideration. For Kochi folks, the next edition of the Connect event will be held in October. 

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The New Indian Express