THE STRANGER AT THE AIRPORT

Some years back, I was stuck at the airport for about three hours waiting for my parents to pick me up. After checking out my luggage, I moved on to the arrival hall to wait for my parents, and after settling down on the bench, a man walked up to me and asked if he could sit next to me. He seemed harmless and we were in a public area so, why not? I obliged him and we exchanged pleasantries.

After about five minutes of silence he spoke to me again. He asked if I was a student being that I had so much luggage and looked really young. I told him I was and we started chatting about random things going on at the airport. We then moved on to talking about the country and recent events.

Suddenly, he switched the conversation to himself. It seemed like he was really anxious to talk. He started telling me about his life and family. He talked about some of his dark secrets, no holds barred. At this point I was baffled. I mean, this is a stranger I started an innocent chat with and the conversation is turning out to be nothing like one I’d normally have with a stranger.

He narrated several events that had happened in his life and I just couldn’t help but listen. First of all, because I was stuck at the airport at 5:00 am in the morning with nowhere to go and secondly, I felt that he really needed someone to listen to him. Someone who knew nothing about him and would not judge him. I wanted to be that person. I had to be.

I understood him. There were times I had wished I could talk to a neutral person who cared to give me a listening ear, about some things bothering my mind, and wouldn’t be able to connect any dots from past conversations we’ve had. Someone who is just there to listen and give objective counsel, if need be.

But what was really different about the conversation was the fact that everything he talked about dated several years back. This made me more attentive, and as the conversation went on, I was able to deduce that he really had no one to talk to about those things. I was scared for him, but also happy for him. 

I was scared because I couldn’t believe he had bottled up those emotions inside him for that long and still seemed so normal on the outside. I wondered how he had been coping and how those emotions would have affected some decisions he had made in life. They actually did, based on his story, but I was happy for him because he finally got to talk to someone, me. At least, he was finally able to summon the courage.

However, I couldn’t help but wonder why he chose me. It kept popping up in my head while he was talking. “Why me?” I kept asking myself. I then figured that I seemed like the most approachable person around. He had had it to his neck. He had slipped into depression. He just wanted to talk to someone at that moment. I guess I was the most available and suitable person at the moment.

I was able to give him some counsel. I was only 21 at the time, but I had gotten to see life a lot more differently than an average 21 year old. I think he was thrilled by how I handled it. I must tell you, those secrets were dark. I was glad I could help him, for the time being. At least, I listened and he felt better. I could see it, the relief.

Notwithstanding, I learned a lot from my encounter with him. I learnt that carrying your emotional burden alone would do you no good, more so bottling them up for too long. Those things have a way of haunting you. Also, I learned to stop judging people when they open up to me. I feel like that’s exactly what held him back from talking to anyone he knew. Not even one person qualified, not one.

Finally, I hope I was actually able to touch his life positively, I hope that every time he remembers that day, he can hold out hope for a little bit more, I hope that everyone who reads this would find someone who has the patience to listen to you and also deem it fit to lend someone a listening ear, hopefully, their secrets are not as dark as those of the stranger at the airport.

HOW DO PEOPLE FEEL ABOUT YOU?

Not everyone will like you. Learn to be okay with that. Whenever I find myself in a new environment, my first instinct is to look out for those who don’t like me at all, those who feel indifferent about me, and those who seem to like me, respectively.

When you’re going to be around a place for a while, you cannot immediately tell if someone likes you just by having an awesome first contact or conversation with them. Someone treating you well on the first day doesn’t necessarily mean they like you. They could just be doing their job or just following a script in their head that says “First impressions last long. Be nice.” You have no idea what is going on in their mind, especially if you are one who isn’t good at reading body language. Also, you have to understand that some people’s attitude towards you may change as they get to know you.

Regardless of their words, body language is the best way to judge whether someone dislikes, likes or is indifferent about you. No matter how hard a person tries to hide their true feelings, they still give away signals about what’s actually on their mind through their body language. It might just be a mild signal no one would notice but if you look close enough, you’ll see it. The mind controls the body.

I’ve been in situations where the people who disliked me initially ended up being the ones who cared the most about me and those that seemed to like me at first ended up drifting away. You definitely want people that like you and are positively interested in your life around you. Someone not liking you is better than them being indifferent about you. As always said, “there’s a thin line between like and dislike”. The slate of “dislike” can still be flipped to the other side of “like” but indifference mostly always grows into dislike.

Indifference is one of the most dangerous emotions in the world. It is a state whereby a person refuses to see the good or bad in someone or something. No matter what they do, either good or bad, it just goes unnoticed. Note that unlike dislike, indifference doesn’t always originate from envy or jealousy. It is mostly just a cold feeling towards someone or something or towards anything going on with them. A person can be friends with you and be indifferent about you or a person can wish you well but be indifferent about what goes on in your life.

As human beings, we are mostly wired to have a sense of community. You want to have people on your team, a clique, a tribe. You desire to be accepted by everyone you come across. I want you to know that you’ll eventually get exhausted and frustrated if you don’t train your mind to know that it’s okay to not be accepted by everyone. In fact, that should make you know that you’re doing something right. Not everyone will like you, not everyone will understand you, and not everyone will want to understand you.

Figure out those who like you and work your way up from there, but don’t be too fast to form any seriously close friendships. Take your time to study them while still being friendly with them. Find out what makes those who don’t like you feel that way about you. If they are things you can work on, do so but don’t feel pressured to become someone you’re not just so that you can win people’s hearts.

Focus on the good. Focus on those who like you. As for the others, those who will change their mind about you will and others will hold on to how they feel about you no matter how hard you try. They’re necessary evils in this life. The moment you accept this reality, then you’ll thrive.