A Stranger's Smile

Remember when we were growing up and our parents told us to never talk to strangers?

While the sentiment makes sense, you’d never make a new friend if you listened to it all the time.


Several weeks ago after I came off the stage from giving my Icarus Talk a young woman walked up to me.

“I loved what you had to say and I’m in the smile business so I had to meet you.”

We hugged and I exchanged cards with the promise to follow-up with each other. After a game of email tag we set a time to get together for coffee.

A coffee date with no agenda, plan or goal is too rare of an occurrence these days.

Kelly is a strong, confident and driven young woman. She has already lived more than some people will in their entire life. Her passion for making the world a better place reconfirmed in my soul that I’m on the right path.

I couldn’t help but smile as I sat down and she insisted on buying the coffee and I noticed she had my book open on her Kindle. I had brought a signed copy for her as a thank you for the kind words after my talk. I had no idea how big of a smile that would give her.

Yesterday we were strangers. We knew very little about each other and yet that hour together turned around a day that wasn’t so good for me.

She is in the smile business because she made me happier than I was when I walked in.

Don’t forget that while our gadgets allow us to make meaningful connections, the real magic happens when we can see each other. I love video conferencing as much as the next guy, but it’ll never trump being able to sit down and feel someone’s energy in person.

Plus, we still can’t give virtual hugs. Not ones that can compete with the real thing.

Today as you go about your day, give a smile to a nearby stranger. You never know the amount of positive energy a simple smile may bring someone.

  • I plan on making the most of this at SXSW, you know. 😉

    • Sounds like a good thing to do in Austin 🙂

      Hope to see you there.

  • Tanis Miller

    My kingdom for your smile and a burger and a beer.

    • YES please!!! I so badly want to jump on a plane and come up and meet that bear of a puppy you have.

  • Good for Kelly! I love that she took the initiative to come up and meet you. That’s not always easy to do.

    I tell my students in a different scenario about the importance of talking to strangers. They learn their entire lives not to talk to strangers. However, as journalists, they can’t just approach the people they know. If they do, they’ll never learn the real stories and key individuals will drive all of the news. My statement to them: “Approach anyone who looks like they won’t bite. Get them to tell you their story.”

    You must look like you won’t bite, at least to Kelly.

    Thanks for the great read and strong lesson.


    • So glad I don’t look like I’d bite. That is good to know 🙂

      Great advice for your students!

  • Great article. This is why I love meeting new people. It’s fun to see two rock stars like Kelly and CC connect!

    • I’m the same way. Nothing makes me more exciting than meeting great people in new places.

  • I love this, CC. The power of serendipity and the willingness of Kelly to approach you. Beautiful.

  • You outdid yourself with this one C.C.!

  • C.C. Chapman,

    I guess in my case smiling and saying good morning is part of our culture. Even saying buen provecho (same as Bon appetite) is something we do when strangers are around. The interactions multiply given that I now live near the beach in a tourist area people are in vacation mode so they are more willing to interact I guess.

    I remember when I went to work in New York city how I had to resist myself from smiling and saying “Buen provecho” to strangers some of them might have understood it as an invasion of privacy.

    Curious enough yesterday I ran into an addict that is begging for money on one of the street lights I have to go by every day. I made it a habit to say hi to him no matter what condition he is in.

    In our short 60 second chats I realize how much in pain he is and how difficult it would be to get him out of it. After I spoke with him yesterday he was complaining about how nobody would feed him and he would use the money he had for drugs. So if they gave him money it would be impossible for him to not use it for his addictions.

    This post will make me stop and grab him some breakfast today I am sure that poor lost soul will appreciate it and I will report back if I get a smile from him.

    • I also wanted to suggest maybe allowing someone to pass in a crowded intersection, opening a door, helping someone carry something in the supermarket, or just handing them the supermarket car if you see them going for one. I love doing things like this. Since people don’t expect them you bring a bit of joy in their day.

  • Pretty awesome, CC. I dig it. Sad how true it is about not having an agenda being the exception rather than the rule these days.