What Kissing Strangers Has Taught Me About Being Brave

Dear P,

A couple of weeks ago, you posted a video of complete strangers kissing. It inspired me to go up to random strangers and ask them if I could kiss them. This has led to loads of fun make-out sessions and a bad cold.

Just kidding. I haven’t been kissing strangers, just asking if I can take their pictures and ask a few questions, mainly about UT. I started a HONY-knockoff blog called “Seen on UT Campus”. For the last month, I have tried to post at least every day. I started this blog so that I could get better at speaking to strangers and to make people feel like individuals at this giant university.

I have to gather my courage for every one of these interviews. I get so nervous, I might as well be asking if I could put my mouth on their mouth. I’m not afraid of the possibility that the person I am interviewing will not want their photo taken. Every person I have asked so far has been flattered. What irks me about these interviews is that they are always awkward, at least for a couple seconds.

The price of human interaction is effort and awkwardness. It takes a certain amount of effort for me to make a space in my day to walk around campus with my camera. More than that, I very much dread the uncomfortable first few seconds of the interview, when the person asks, “Why do you want my picture?” and I have to respond, “I run a blog called ‘Seen On UT Campus.’”  This response always makes me feel stupid. It makes me feel stupid to admit that I care enough about something to go out and take pictures of strangers every day. I feel vulnerable, and I start interviewing my subject as soon as possible.

Brené Brown taught us that vulnerability is the key to having meaningful connection in our lives. I am going to go a step forward, and say that awkwardness is a key to having meaningful connections in our lives. You are supposed to feel uncomfortable sometimes. Yesterday, I read this article in Rookie. It is a roundtable discussion about money. The participants in the discussion came from all different backgrounds and they talked about how money and class affects their lives. The reader can tell that there are parts that made each of the writers uncomfortable, but they forged through this taboo topic because it helps them to understand each other more honestly. Another taboo in our society is tragedy. Last month, a member of our hometown community went through a grievous series of events. M and I were talking yesterday about how we keep trying to make letters, cards, and gifts for her, but they all seem trite. Our inability to give back to a person who has helped us so much makes us feel guilty, which feeds back into our lack of action. M and I made a pact yesterday that we would send in the things we had written, even if they seem lame to us. We decided it was more important to show our support than say the perfect thing.

The discomfort I feel every day for my “Seen on UT Campus” project helps me through conversations like this. I always admire how comfortable you feel talking about religion. Yesterday, Nick Offerman came to speak at UT. He started talking about his views on religion and you could feel the tension building. A lot of people left the event. Offerman talked about the need to have calm, open discussions about religion. I agree with this sentiment, even though I think these conversations can only happen if we have nothing to prove, if we accept that we disagree with other sentiments and they are still valid. Not long ago, Bill Nye the science guy had a debate with Ken Ham about evolution vs. creationism. Everyone I have talked to, including some of my professors, agree that this debate was a colossal waste of time. Creationists are aware the evidence for evolution, for the most part. They just choose not to believe it, which makes me uncomfortable, but it is their own business what they believe. To continue a positive discussion with a creationist, I would have to embrace my discomfort and listen carefully to what they have to say. You are very good at doing this, P.

I may not be kissing strangers, but as a human, I deal with uncomfortable situations every day. I try to put myself in as many uncomfortable situations as possible so that I can expand my comfort zone. You do the same, taking hard classes and putting on magnificent events that could go wrong. Yesterday I listened to James Altucher’s podcast with Dan Harris. Harris talked about a phrase his father used a lot: “Insecurity is the price of security.” The price of having solid, open relationships is effort and discomfort. Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is the cost of striving to be better.

Love,

E