Learning from Experience: Jay Cross Discusses His "New Muse"
The Conversation Cafe--Philly Style

The Intimacy of Strangers

In my life, I've had some of the most profound and important realizations about myself when I've been working with relative strangers. I was thinking about this in regard to my upcoming Dream It/Do It Retreat where I'll be bringing together a group of people who don't know each other to work on their creative projects. 

I've found that people are often reluctant to do really personal work around people they don't know. They have concerns about trust and privacy that I definitely understand. We are worried about being judged and with strangers, we don't know what their reactions will be to who we are. 

Interestingly, though, I think it's with strangers that we can sometimes most be ourselves. We are not tied into the identities that people close to us most expect. We are not forced into certain roles that we are required to play depending on the group we are with.

In a group of relative strangers, we are free to be whoever we want to be.  When we are working on new ideas, it is actually this freedom from the tyranny of our old roles and identities that is most needed. This gives us the space to try on new ways of being without someone we know well judging us for it. 

The reality is, the people we know well are often as invested in our old identities as we are. Especially at work, our bonds have been formed around us being a certain type of person in a certain role.

When we are exploring new options, especially in the early stages, I've found that it can actually be more effective to do this work with people we don't know who are engaged in the same quest. They are less wedded to our old identities and have nothing to lose if we talk about changing. They don't have hidden or unconscious motives to keep us where we are and so, are more likely to be objective and supportive in their interactions with us. And they understand on a deeper level the changes that we are going through and so can relate better to the emotions and decisions we face along the way. 

I find that there's a special intimacy that can develop among strangers who are on a journey together, an intimacy that can be more helpful than that we find with our friends, families and co-workers. 

Have you experienced this? How has it helped you to grow? 


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Hi Michele!
I surely agree with you. Once I read about an old Chinese proverb that had a similar sense: "You tell a stranger,you met for just an evening, at the inn, what you didn't share with your wife after twenty years of common life".
I can't translate it precisely, but that is the general idea.
Sometimes, among strangers, you feel more free to be yourself, beyond the grasp of the expectations of those who are "too close to see the truth".
I had a teacher at College who used to say: we must "turn away from our own center", not because we are selfish, but because we are infinite".
I'm happy to be visiting you again!

Ines, I love your quotes! The Chinese proverb especially resonates, particularly for the Conversation Cafe we're planning in September. It's so true--many times at parties I've heard my husband say something to a relative stranger that I didn't know about him and I'll think "Huh--why haven't you ever told me that?" Maybe it's also because strangers will ask different questions. When we know someone, we are more likely to think that we already know the answers. :-)

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