You REALLY want to talk???

polar plunge 11

By Kenneth Justice

I don’t get it dude, she could be doing so much more with her life so why is she getting drunk every night?”

~ When people at coffee find out I have a certification in chemical addictions counseling they usually end up telling me stories about themselves or loved ones who’ve struggled with addiction. I suspect its similar to finding out someone is a lawyer (you tell them about the time you got pulled over by a police officer and were treated poorly) or if you’re introduced to a doctor (you ask them for medical advice regarding that weird blemish on your skin that won’t go away).

Recently a stranger at coffee was telling me about his sister, “She’s 25 years old and is extremely likable and bright. She has a degree from a prestigious university yet she’s doing nothing with her life but getting drunk every night” he said

Not even Sigmund Freud could diagnosis the addictive behavior of a young woman through a mere 14 minute conversation with her brother, so I simply listened patiently and asked questions when it seemed appropriate.

What drives a total stranger to opening up to me at coffee; or opening up to anyone for that matter…. who they’ve only just met? It’s a question that comes up from time-to-time and it’s been the backdrop for my Drinking in the Culture Tour as I meet with readers and fellow bloggers in coffee shops all around the Western World this year (I will be in Pittsburgh this weekend).

Initially, I thought that as I publicly ventured out from behind the privacy of my local café into coffee shops all around the Western World to meet with people; that everyone would be more reserved about telling me their stories…..but now having completed trips to Costa Rica, Atlanta, and Chicago the exact opposite has been true; even though people know who I am and know that I’m going to be writing about my experiences they still want to tell me their stories.

There were a number of times in Costa Rica, when it was after I told strangers I’m on a writing tour blogging about the people I meet that they instantly opened up to me, sharing very personal stories about; love, addiction, sex, and fill-in-the-blank.

And as I keep thinking about this question I come back to the same realization over-and-over; the Western World in our quest towards individualism has so isolated us from each other that we long for deeper connections to our fellow humans.

Let’s face it, the Western World has become a much more unfriendly place as time marches on,

—-) Most people don’t know their neighbors

—-) Many people are fearful of strangers

—-) A lot of people long to share stories with each other

Statistically, the rate of people who struggle with depression and/or loneliness increases each year at exponential rates and there is an amazing statistic about third world countries that have a more communal culture atmosphere; the rate of loneliness and depression is practically nil.

Sure, we here in the Western World can be proud of all of our technological achievements, many of which like Apple products are built off of slave labor that is committing suicide in non-Western countries. But with all of our technological achievements we simply can’t get away from the fact that there is a thirst within our soul to connect in face-to-face atmospheres with our fellow humans.

We long for more opportunities to laugh and cry with other people. To share stories about the good times and the not-so-good times. There is a thirst within our being to be less fearful of strangers and more open to connecting with the people all around us.

When I was younger I’d listen to NEWS reports about young women raped by strangers or stories about innocent bystanders being shot in the line-of-fire by bank robbers. But as I got older I realized that these negative stories which the media props up in the forefront of their reports; don’t represent the way life REALLY is. The world is not nearly as scary a place as the media makes it out to be.

As I travel from one city to the next, I find that strangers are often more helpful than not. Men and women who don’t even know me are more than likely to help me with directions, traveling advice, or simply to sit and chat while we share our experiences.

Perhaps I’ totally wrong about this, but I simply don’t think the world is as scary as we were told.

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning,


I will be in Pittsburgh this weekend, I’d love to meet you over a cup of a coffee!

Categories: Culture & Society

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

76 replies

  1. I don’t think it is a big scary world. One does need to be smart and try to avoid stepping into situations that are already charged with some tensions. Open the eyes and ears. Pay attention to what is going on before charging in.

    Perhaps good advice. Still, unfamiliarity makes me a bit nervous.

  2. Dear Kenneth,

    I cannot help but think that we internalize fear and then many if us attempt to dull it, numb it, bury it with something – drinking, drugs, shopping, being too nice, whatever the case may be. And all the while the fears are not even real. They are just fed to us by our culture that needs us to be afraid. Afraid you aren’t pretty enough or smart enough so you will buy whatever it is they need to sell you to keep you small.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical. I believe the answer to it is community. Just as you are showing us what deep down we know but are often afraid to explore – people love other people. We need each other. Connections dissolve so many fears.

    Thank you for your article and insights, always. 🙂

    ~ Allison

  3. I told you, you’re like a reverse “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Instead of going around and telling people your tale, you go around and people come to you and spill it all out.

    In all seriousness, I noticed that you don’t shy away from questions. So what people might normally talk around or hint at, you ask them point-blank. This is a huge factor.

  4. It is my belief that we live in a fallen world where evil does exist. And this is my experience. But, likewise, I also have been blessed with wonderful relationships and friendships and experiences. We live in a world where evil and goodness are revealed.

    People have eternity in their hearts and love is the greatest gift we can give to each other. When it is extended – through your listening ears over coffee – or however, it is healing and refreshing.

    Thanks for listening – for you are loving people who need it.

  5. You do chemical addictions counselling? Wow! Now let me tell you about … 🙂

    When I was a young lad we played in the park opposite our home. Roaming happily out of sight, coming home for dinner. One day a friend and I used the public toilets in the wooded area (think small, remote and unloved toilets).

    As we left a man, also using the toilet, left at the same time. Although wearing a long coat as he passed alongside we noticed he had forgotten to zip up his trousers and his dinky was dangling. Both of suppressed our giggle until he was out of sight. Then we just fell about laughing.

    There always have been dangers. It is just they are now “dangerous” and “everywhere” (and you have just sparked a ton of my memories where strangers oozed respect, affection and friendliness. Thank you)

    • Paul, you’ve got a way with words, “Think small, remote and unloved toilets” lol awesome sentence!!

      “his dinky was dangling” too funny!

      Great story 🙂

  6. That is right. Even Sigmund Freud could not stop his own addiction on his own. The reasons the 25 year old with everything, sits and gets drunk every night is cunning, baffling and powerful. She will have to discover something so much more important to her life, than relief, to get her out trying new things. Telling her feelings to someone who has had that problem and come out from under is crucial. She can talk away to a stranger or a therapists and it will do very little. The person who thinks like she does (irrationally) and can no longer listen to distorted thinking, has the answers. It is a spiritual solution, no doubt.

    • Well said Ellen and we are both on the same page. There are simply some things that people do that we can never TRULY understand, but you are so right, “she will have to discover something so much more important to her life….”

  7. I don’t know how you don it. Honestly, I think you must have some crazy gift of striking up conversations with random strangers. If I’m out in public, surrounded by strangers, I rarely speak unless spoken to. Of course, once spoken to, I’m an open book (and said stranger probably regrets their decision due to the amount of talking I can do once I open my mouth).

    Also, you’re internet famous. Everyone wants to talk to you in the hopes of getting their 15 minutes of internet fame. You should do a short study. Go to a cafe and speak to random strangers, but don’t mention your blog. The next day, mention your blog first when speaking to strangers. I bet more people talk to you when you mention your blog. Who cares about movie stars anymore? Everyone wants to be the next viral cat video.

    • TK, well if Natalie Portman walks into a coffee shop at the same time as me I’ll tell ya that I sure wouldn’t talk to me! I’d be sitting with Natalie 😉

      But I pretty much agree with all of your observations to a point……i do think that ultimately people want someone to listen who isn’t going to judge them for what they say 🙂

  8. I think there are really folks that exude some kind of trust, even within minutes of meeting them.
    Encounters and conversations with such folks tend to be interesting (and enlightening).

  9. I agree with what you’ve written. You, my friend, are an open person. My mother is also an open person. Open people have people talk to them all the time. I have it to some degree but not as much as others, definitely not as much as my mom. People are looking for connection, you can go stand in the grocery line and find that out. 🙂 And the world isn’t that scary a place, I’ve been there, but it is a little more scary for women than for men. Sadly.

  10. – Most people don’t know their neighbors
    – Many people are fearful of strangers
    – A lot of people long to share stories with each other

    Aren’t these the reasons many people blog? Especially as a way to share stories with each other? As a way to stay connected to other human beings, albeit virtually? As a way to be a part of a community?

  11. The world will almost always be what we make of it, after all perception is the new reality right? Somewhere along the way an entire generation was taught about “stranger danger” and the young minds only retained part of the message. Safer to avoid everyone you don’t know than open yourself up to being taken advantage of. Couple that with increased work loads, social expectations and a daily flood of useless information and you have a recipe for disconnect and loneliness. Bad for individuals, good for businesses who want to sell you false comfort. We want to connect, want to belong, but we are afraid. When you go out into the big scary world and strike up conversations with strangers you reinforce a new perception of the world. With each leap of faith you take you’re trading fear for truth and offering others the opportunity to do the same. The world needs more people willing to pave the way back towards community. Thank you.

  12. “Sure, we here in the Western World can be proud of all of our technological achievements, many of which like Apple products are built off of slave labor that is committing suicide in non-Western countries. But with all of our technological achievements we simply can’t get away from the fact that there is a thirst within our soul to connect in face-to-face atmospheres with our fellow humans.”

    There is certainly not enough face to face communication. I think that what you do shows that it is quite possible. I always suspected that things were different before radio, television, and the internet were around. I think we are living in a matrix that blinds us from the truth.

  13. “…that there is a thirst within our soul to connect in face-to-face atmospheres with our fellow humans.” Very well said! I think that many people must be very isolated in our country! I believe that people must feel like they know that you will handle their truth with kindness and grace. This may be why you are “trusted” by strangers. It is a compliment to you, but I see that it may be a burden sometimes. Thank you for your mention about the world being a less scary place than the media portrays. We can write about this, Kenneth. Hopefully, the world will slowly begin restricting their diet of sensationalized current events. It is zapping the life out of humanity.

    • Cate, its a growing problem. When I was actively working in the social work field the number of people who struggled with loneliness was overwhelming. One of the problems when I was working as an addictions counselor is that many of my clients were simply lonely; it wasn’t that they had a chemical addiction… its that they just didn’t like being alone and didn’t have any friends

  14. I completely agree that the world we have today can make us feel isolated. I think that your coffee tour is closing the gap, those people know that they can connect with you and you will connect with others, so, they are connecting with more people, by proxy!
    What a great gift you are giving so many!

    • Yea, theres so much about the world that makes people feel lonely which is odd at the same time because things like Facebook, twitter, etc are supposed to make people feel less lonely…. weird to say the least

  15. The world is only as scary as the world around us. A war is not a reason not to try and talk to your Muslim neighbour.
    A rape is not a reason to think all men are bad. a robbery does not mean all banks are unsafe.

    And let my thought of the day kind of match up.

    “How independent should we be in a Community”

  16. Humans don’t bite.. 😆 but how would I know unless I try?.. Believing will connect us.
    Never understood how getting wasted help anyone( maybe cuz I never did? Or I’ve seen enough to control myself)

  17. It’s not that scary. Sure there are places a person would be best not to walk alone in, but overall things are not as bad as they are cracked up to be. For instance, my husband and I spend a great deal of time in what would be considered the ‘ghetto’, because of the people we visit/help. Last night we took a stroll down the ‘worst street in town’. Did we get mugged, raped or shot at? No. We got a coffee and kept on walking. People are only scary if you make yourself afraid of them. In other words, most of the time it’s not them, it’s you.

  18. You have a gift if people want to share their personal stories with you. (LOL, remember that the next time somebody shares entirely TMI.)

    I think you have completely nailed it about people being basically nicer and friendlier than we’ve been led to believe. There have been some studies done about the impact of the media and the internet on our fearfulness and trust levels. We really are becoming less likely to open up to each other and as a result, loneliness and isolation is becoming a problem.

  19. This is why I am so happy to be able to offer accessible, flexible group opportunities to people where I work. Thanks, Kenneth.

  20. You have made a great point, Kenneth. I believe we were created for community. Does the younger generation even know how to communicate verbally by phone!? Thanks for your insight.

    • A skill that has to be taught. I will say though, I do a lot of phone calls to Customer Service people for my mid-50’s in-laws. My parents put me on the phone early and the military did the same. If you want something done, be personable – face-to-face works best, phone second, snail mail third, email then text.

    • Terese,

      Its something a lot of people are wondering; are phones going to have a negative impact on future generations and their ability to communicate.

  21. I enjoy your observations a lot. I can’t say I share your conclusions, but who knows? What’s interesting to me is it seems that the mere act of trying to figure something out can lead us to negative conclusions. Figuring, I think, tends to be logical and focused and so limits the refreshing possibilities which life provides… which is one reason, I’m guessing, why people so often surprise me.

    • Schn00dles, well once we officially have coffee together one day you will come over to the dark side of agreeing with my conclusions as well 😉 just kidding…… thank you so much for your thoughts as usual 🙂

  22. I agree with you. The world isn’t as scary as the media makes it out to be. The media perpetuates fear and isolation which further exacerbates things and gives the public reason to stay indoors. After taking a sociology of disasters class where we had a 70 year old man who used to be a reporter speak the truth about the media. He informed us of how news used to be reported and the extensive research that went behind the news broadcasts. Mind you this was in the 50’s but he said that the media as we now know it is extremely skewed. I don’t pay much attention to the news because it only perpetuates negative vibes and I think you are spot on in your evaluation!

    • “the media perpetuates fear and isolation which further exacerbates things and gives the public reason to stay indoors”

      Right on! I’m totally with you on everything you’ve said.

  23. Do you have any books that you have written? Maybe you could somehow tie in your culture tour with a book about addictions/phobias/communication? I would be interested in reading it. Short chapters or a short book. Just enough to devour daily at a coffee shop over the course of a couple of weeks.

  24. The depiction of a “scary world” is a political creation used to control the general populace by fear. “Vote for me, and I’ll make it safe for you and your family,” is a typical mantra used by politicians. It is the epitome of the “us” vs. “them” mentality. I could go on, but this is only a comment. Great post.

  25. Just a theory, but perhaps we trust the anonymity of the internet or a stranger on the street more than we do our close friends who are physically present in our lives. We fear the personal interaction a lot more than those who are out in cyberspace because they can’t force themselves into our lives.

    • Barbara,

      I’ve often wondered the same thing; is the anonymity of the Internet that people find attractive?

    • Yup, the anonymity (assuming one choses to go anonymous) is highly appealing on the net. It has been since I was on FIDO back in the early days of the net when the flame wars required fire retardant undies.

      I’ve a hunch that if someone knows you’re a professional of some kind that is a secret keeper (even if they don’t realize that we’re not required to keep THEIR secrets) people’s eyes light up and about 30 seconds after that begins the system dump. One person said, “Please, don’t tell anyone.” I pointed out, “Who am I going to tell?” Laughing

  26. I agree. Most people are either good people or at least try to be good people. We let the negativity of the media dominate our thinking.

    If I’m walking down the street (a real feat in a little town without much in the line of sidewalks) and meet people I virtually always at least nod and smile or say “Hello.” A smile can make someone’s entire day.

    People gravitate to me as well because I am open to contact. It’s the helping professional thing and you’ve got the same “aura.” Most folks don’t have a chance to just unload anymore. And YOU are safe. You’re not going to go tell on them. You may blog, but there are no names (except for yours).

    • agreed; and I go OUT OF MY WAY to change details in order to protect people’s anonymity. I do my utmost, even in a couple instances I changed a person’s gender in the article in order to protect their privacy from being invaded…. but all the stories are 100% true about people I meet 🙂

  27. Such is the irony of social media…It is supposed to bring us closer together but it seems to have done the exact opposite. Face to face interaction is where genuine relationships are built and maintained.

    Great post Kenneth!

  28. Kenneth,
    While it is somewhat true that world is not as scary as most of us are led to believe there is a reason behind why society has become as fearful as it has today. I recently learned that in my parents’ lifetime society has changed drastically. This isn’t to say that I was not already aware that society today and society then are completely different, but that the reasoning behind all the fear began when my parents were my age. After the assassination of President Kennedy everything somehow changed overnight. Suddenly it wasn’t okay to leave your doors unlocked while you slept, or leave your kids out running around all over town because you knew your neighbors across the way. And now, you’re lucky if you even know the neighbor you share a yard with next door.

    I believe that people are innately good, no matter what my Professors (and my parents) continue to tell me. I am not fearful of strangers unless it is evident that they pose a threat to me. Otherwise, I never forget to laugh, love my neighbor, or smile on a daily basis and I think it would be wise for others to remember to do these things too.

    • “suddenly it wasn’t okay to leave your doors unlocked while you slept….”

      Your’ re right, its so weird how everything was moving along at a normal pace and then we woke up one day and everyone is telling us to be scared to death of everything!

  29. Ok, super major bummer. I just posted my comment and lost it when trying to send it. So let me shorten it.
    “But as I got older I realized that these negative stories which the media props up in the forefront of their reports; don’t represent the way life REALLY is. The world is not nearly as scary a place as the media makes it out to be.”
    -Very, very true. Hubby and I went to Afghanistan. I was freaked out and scared in the line up waiting to board the plane in Turkey. There was only one other woman boarding the plane. I was scared to use the bathroom that I asked my hubby if I should put the scarf around my head. Then I asked him to watch me every step of the way. Crazy eh. Anyhow, we went there to do a documentary to bring dignity and give a voice to the Afghan people. Thanks to the media, when people think of Afghanistan they think war, Taliban and harshness to women. Of course there is truth to that, but totally blown out of proportion. I tiny little bomb goes off in a pizza shop and all of a sudden the news says that a huge bomb exploded in Kabul, the city is in anarchy, blah, blah, blah. Not so.
    Ok, anyhow, that’s my little rant (hehehe).
    p.s. can you tell i’m rushing?

    • Staci, yea, I’m not sure that id be ‘scared’ going to Afghanistan; I’d probably be way to excited to be scared! And btw: yet another one of your life stories that makes me drool over your travels!!! You’ve been such a lucky dog Staci! 😀

    • Really? Makes you drool? I guess I can see why. I’ve traveled a lot, but to be quite honest, with two little kids, one having Asperger’s Syndrome – I’m so thankful that Daniel has to do most of the traveling now and I get to stay home. I used to be your typical YWAMer saying, “Where I go, the kids will go”. Thinking that I could actually, with all of my impatience (working on that), homeschool them and keep my sanity.

  30. I couldn’t agree with you more that there is a real desire among people for connection at a deeper level. I enjoyed your post.

  31. Because for some reason(s) she has become convinced she is not worth more than getting drunk ever night.

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