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

by Joe Keohane

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532495,980 (3.6)None
"In The Power of Strangers, journalist Joe Keohane takes us through an inquiry into our shared history, one that offers surprising and compelling insights into our own social and political moment. But if strangers seem to some to be the problem, history, data, and science show us that they are actually our solution. In fact, throughout human history, our address to the stranger, the foreigner, the marginalized, and the other has determined the fate and well-being of both nations and individuals. A raft of new science confirms that the more we open ourselves up to encounters with those we don't know, the healthier we are. Modern cities are vast clusters of strangers. Technology has driven many of us into silos of isolation. Through deep immersion with sociologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, theologians, philosophers, political scientists and historians, Keohane learns about how we're wired to sometimes fear, distrust, and even hate strangers; what happens to us--as individuals, groups, and as a culture--when we indulge those biases; and at the same time, he digs into a growing body of cutting-edge research on the surprising social and psychological benefits that come from talking to strangers; how even passing interactions with strangers can enhance empathy, happiness, and cognitive development, ease loneliness and isolation, and root us in the world, deepening our sense of belonging; how paradoxically, strangers can help us become more fully ourselves. Keohane explores the ways in which biology, culture, and history have defined us and our understanding of people we don't know"--… (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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"In The Power of Strangers, journalist Joe Keohane takes us through an inquiry into our shared history, one that offers surprising and compelling insights into our own social and political moment. But if strangers seem to some to be the problem, history, data, and science show us that they are actually our solution. In fact, throughout human history, our address to the stranger, the foreigner, the marginalized, and the other has determined the fate and well-being of both nations and individuals. A raft of new science confirms that the more we open ourselves up to encounters with those we don't know, the healthier we are. Modern cities are vast clusters of strangers. Technology has driven many of us into silos of isolation. Through deep immersion with sociologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, theologians, philosophers, political scientists and historians, Keohane learns about how we're wired to sometimes fear, distrust, and even hate strangers; what happens to us--as individuals, groups, and as a culture--when we indulge those biases; and at the same time, he digs into a growing body of cutting-edge research on the surprising social and psychological benefits that come from talking to strangers; how even passing interactions with strangers can enhance empathy, happiness, and cognitive development, ease loneliness and isolation, and root us in the world, deepening our sense of belonging; how paradoxically, strangers can help us become more fully ourselves. Keohane explores the ways in which biology, culture, and history have defined us and our understanding of people we don't know"--

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