The Power of Strangers

With Joe Keohane

Why don’t we talk to strangers? What happens when we do? Joe Keohane argues that, if we do, it affects everything from our own health and well-being to the rise and fall of nations. In our cities, even before the pandemic, we stood on silent buses and subway cars, barely acknowledging one another, even as rates of loneliness skyrocketed. Online, we retreat into ideological silos reinforced by algorithms designed to serve us only familiar ideas. In our politics, we are increasingly consumed by the fear of people we’ve never met. But what if strangers—so often blamed for our most pressing political, social, and personal problems—are actually the solution?

Keohane takes us on a journey to discover what happens when we bridge the distance between us and people we don’t know. And he finds that, while we are wired to sometimes fear, distrust and even hate strangers, people and societies that have learned to connect with strangers benefit immensely. Digging into a growing body of cutting-edge research on the surprising social and psychological benefits that come from talking to strangers, Keohane shows that even passing interactions can enhance empathy, happiness and cognitive development; ease loneliness and isolation; and root us in the world, deepening our sense of belonging and revealing that talking to strangers isn’t just a way to live. It’s a way to thrive.