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The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World

by Joe Keohane

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392575,600 (3.75)None
An entertaining, surprising, and ultimately inspiring look at what happens when we talk to strangers, and why it affects everything from our own health and well-being to the rise and fall of nations in the tradition of Susan Cain's Quiet and Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens "This lively, searching work makes the case that welcoming 'others' isn't just the bedrock of civilization, it's the surest path to the best of what life has to offer."--Ayad Akhtar, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Homeland Elegies In our cities, we stand in silence at the pharmacy and in check-out lines at the grocery store, distracted by our phones, barely acknowledging one another, even as rates of loneliness skyrocket. Online, we retreat into ideological silos reinforced by algorithms designed to serve us only familiar ideas and like-minded users. In our politics, we are increasingly consumed by a fear of people we've never met. But what if strangers--so often blamed for our most pressing political, social, and personal problems--are actually the solution? In The Power of Strangers, Joe Keohane sets out on a journey to discover what happens when we bridge the distance between us and people we don't know. He learns that while we're wired to sometimes fear, distrust, and even hate strangers, people and societies that have learned to connect with strangers benefit immensely. Digging into a growing body of cutting-edge research on the surprising social and psychological benefits that come from talking to strangers, Keohane finds that even passing interactions can enhance empathy, happiness, and cognitive development, ease loneliness and isolation, and root us in the world, deepening our sense of belonging. And all the while, Keohane gathers practical tips from experts on how to talk to strangers, and tries them out himself in the wild, to awkward, entertaining, and frequently poignant effect. Warm, witty, erudite, and profound, equal parts sweeping history and self-help journey, this deeply researched book will inspire readers to see everything--from major geopolitical shifts to trips to the corner store--in an entirely new light, showing them that talking to strangers isn't just a way to live; it's a way to survive.… (more)
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Keohane seems much more interested in speculating about the political consequences of talking to strangers, than in actually talking to strangers. I found this totally unconvincing, and would recommend instead Putnam's "Bowling Alone."

There is lots of long-winded philosophizing, mostly to fill pages. Lots of uncritical quotes of unreproducible social science experiments run on undergraduate students. Surprisingly, there is *not* a lot of talking to strangers. Perhaps this is a consequence of writing the book during the Covid pandemic? But then why isn't there more than a paper-thin discussion of online discussions?

> “The religious communities constituted by Western religions are typically constituted by culturally different groups of people, who may be considered the same because they subscribe to the same creed. The religious communities of the Eastern traditions typically consist of constituencies of culturally similar people, who are prepared to let others adhere to different creeds.”

> So, if Protestantism, income equality, low levels of crime and corruption, and low parasite threat are the key drivers of trust in strangers, then it comes as no surprise that the northern European countries are all on the top of the pile. The trust exhibited by these societies is so beneficial that experts have called it “Nordic gold.”

> There actually appears to be an inverse correlation between generalized trust and what we—particularly Americans, but others as well—would construe as friendliness. … We have seen time and time again how friction makes us social. In efficient high-trust societies, friction is minimal. Central institutions handle the things that in less-well-functioning places often fall to individuals. In low-trust countries, however, people can’t rely on institutions to take care of them. They have to be more sociable—with friends and strangers alike—in order to get by. … “Although uninsulted southerners were, if anything, more polite than northerners, insulted southerners were much more aggressive than any other group,” Cohen and Nesbitt found. There’s a name for this link between politeness and violence: the paradox of politeness.

> Mexico ranks higher in terms of simpatía than other Latin American countries. And she attributes this to the way in which they were conquered. In Latin American countries, as well as in the United States and Canada, the newcomers came and eradicated the native peoples. In Mexico, with notable exceptions like the Aztecs, many of the native people cooperated, in time blending their traditions with those of the Spanish, leading to hybrids like Mexico’s distinctive form of Catholicism.

> the best conversational opener ever: When someone tells you what they do for a living, always respond, “That sounds really hard,” and watch what happens. … “How are you doing?” seldom if ever gets a real response. But something more specific like “How’s the day been?” does a little better. And my new go-to—“People behaving themselves?”—works great. It always gets a conspiratorial smile, and sometimes a story … Never just “thanks,” which would be to follow a script, always something more, like “Hey, thanks for doing that. I really appreciate it.” People seem taken aback, but pleasantly so.

> ‘Every morning, say hello to everyone. Everyone. I don’t care who it is. Guy, girl, everyone. Make eye contact, and say good morning.’ … This next week, the people who say good morning back, say “How are you?” ( )
  breic | Sep 2, 2021 |
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An entertaining, surprising, and ultimately inspiring look at what happens when we talk to strangers, and why it affects everything from our own health and well-being to the rise and fall of nations in the tradition of Susan Cain's Quiet and Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens "This lively, searching work makes the case that welcoming 'others' isn't just the bedrock of civilization, it's the surest path to the best of what life has to offer."--Ayad Akhtar, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Homeland Elegies In our cities, we stand in silence at the pharmacy and in check-out lines at the grocery store, distracted by our phones, barely acknowledging one another, even as rates of loneliness skyrocket. Online, we retreat into ideological silos reinforced by algorithms designed to serve us only familiar ideas and like-minded users. In our politics, we are increasingly consumed by a fear of people we've never met. But what if strangers--so often blamed for our most pressing political, social, and personal problems--are actually the solution? In The Power of Strangers, Joe Keohane sets out on a journey to discover what happens when we bridge the distance between us and people we don't know. He learns that while we're wired to sometimes fear, distrust, and even hate strangers, people and societies that have learned to connect with strangers benefit immensely. Digging into a growing body of cutting-edge research on the surprising social and psychological benefits that come from talking to strangers, Keohane finds that even passing interactions can enhance empathy, happiness, and cognitive development, ease loneliness and isolation, and root us in the world, deepening our sense of belonging. And all the while, Keohane gathers practical tips from experts on how to talk to strangers, and tries them out himself in the wild, to awkward, entertaining, and frequently poignant effect. Warm, witty, erudite, and profound, equal parts sweeping history and self-help journey, this deeply researched book will inspire readers to see everything--from major geopolitical shifts to trips to the corner store--in an entirely new light, showing them that talking to strangers isn't just a way to live; it's a way to survive.

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