Note from Kerrie – Our guest blogger was a stranger to me only days ago – we’ve just had two public conversations on a new live-streaming platform called Blab.im We’ve also tweeted a few times, and Vin (Vintuitive) shared this story with me. It’s interesting – and insightful. Enjoy!!
The Lynton Station Stranger – Guest Blog by Vin Brown
Last Wednesday I caught a train into the city for a Dentist’s appointment. In a rush to leave home I had grabbed both my iPod and my iPad but I stupidly forgot to pack my earphones. So on the train ride home, instead of catching up on podcasts I had yet to listen to, I pulled out my iPad and began re-reading a book on neuroplasticity that I really enjoyed called “The Shallows”, by Nicolas Carr.
A few stops down the track, at Lynton, a large guy in his early 30s boarded the train. He slowly shuffled forward, looking a little bit lost. Having travelled a lot on the Belair line I knew that there was a factory at Lynton called “Bedford Industries”, a place that employed people with mental disabilities. It was fairly clear this guy was an employee. My head remained down, reading from the iPad, not really wanting to engage with him.
I could see his feet, standing beside me, facing me. I looked up at him and could see by his persistent stare at me that he wanted to sit beside me, but my bag was on the seat preventing him from taking a seat. “Why does he want to sit here”, I thought. “There are plenty of empty seats else where on the train.” He was a big guy of about 6 and half feet in height and pretty large width-wise too, and I am not exactly small either. I reluctantly removed my bag from the seat and he squeezed in next to me.
It was then that he began speaking, his eyes focused on nothing in particular in front of him, in a booming, broad Aussie accent: “Jesus was the son of God, he was born on Christmas day. He died on Friday at Easter and was put in the grave. On Sunday he rose from the dead…” On and on, he continued spewing out information from the Bible that he had obviously memorised. I had put down the iPad by now and remained facing him, waiting for him to pause… but he didn’t. He just kept going with his Biblical knowledge. So I tapped him on the shoulder and he stopped speaking and turned to face me. “How do you know all this?” I asked. “I went to Sunday School” he replied. I thought he must live in a Christian-run home or something where he has been exposed to years of repeated Bible teachings. Almost anything can be memorised with enough repetition.
He then moved on to Australian capital cities: “Sydney’s the place to live if you like a large city. It has the largest population for an Australian capital city with a population of 4 840 600. Canberra is the capital of Australia but it has a lower population of just 381 488” I interrupted: “What about Hobart?” “That has a population of over 217 000”, he responded. “Darwin?”, I continued. He fired back, “Darwin has a population of 120 652” Geez, I was impressed. I asked the population of other capital cities and he responded with the figures without hesitation. He then moved on to other smaller cities and towns along the east coast and their population numbers.
He changed the topic again: “This train doesn’t go very fast.” “Do you know what the fastest train in Australia is?” “It’s the … It goes from Sydney to …, from …. to …. and from … to ….”. On and on he continued until he had gone though all the routes that that particular train travels. All I could think to say was to ask how he knew these things. He shrugged it off, he just liked trains he said. He looked at me for a few seconds and asked me my age. I told him, “44 years old”. “When’s your birthday?” I told him the date, leaving off the year. He then said: “You were born in 1970.” I nodded. Yep, that’s fairly simple maths, I thought to myself.
By this stage the train had stopped at his station and he got up to leave. As the train door opened he turned to me and stated: “You were born on a Wednesday.” and with that he turned and walked out of the train. I was stunned because I knew that he was right, I was born on a Wednesday. I even checked later when I got home to be absolutely certain. After the doors closed and the train pulled away from the platform I turned around and a few people behind me who had overheard our discussion were looking at me with wide eyes. “Was he right, were you born on a Wednesday???” I nodded, “Yes, I was!”
We then chatted about how amazing that is and one of them came and sat next to me for the rest of the journey chatting about another guy like him who works at Bedford Industries who is a Sudoku master, solving puzzles between stops as a challenge. So,it must be a simple party trick, right? How easy is it to determine the day of a person’s birth based on the date of birth? I did a bit of research. It’s achievable if you really want to be able to do that, but it requires a lot of work, memorising many formulas as well as the ability to do fairly complex equations rapidly in your head. This guy had given me the day “Wednesday” within just a few seconds of me telling him my birthdate.
The meeting left me pondering the nature of society, and the perception of human interactions. I thought about my own attitudes and general human nature in today’s society. A person’s ability, or inability to communicate with others is what we generally regard to be the measure of a person’s mental capacity. We have little else to go by initially other than a person’s physical appearance and how they behave and engage with others. Many assumptions and generalisations are made based on our own previous experiences. Wanting to sit next to a stranger on public transport when there are empty seats available elsewhere needn’t be interpreted as being odd behaviour. It could be viewed instead as a sociable act, the desire to engage with others. When we observe
a stranger not following our assumed social norms, or ‘manners’ we tend to think of that person as subnormal, or that they are somehow unable to gauge social situations in order to follow the norms. It could also be that they don’t feel the same obligations, that it is not as important as doing their own thing. Instead of avoiding eye contact with others who don’t follow these unwritten norms, so as to not engage with them and possibly be embarrassed by an unpredictable interaction, we should eagerly embrace these situations as these are those golden moments that carry with them great learning potential.
– Vin Brown
Thank you Vin for sharing!!
Vin’s experience, and insights reminded me of a story I shared on page 189 in Do Talk To Strangers (in the chapter Right Attitude) about someone I met with a curious, open attitude.
And here’s a couple of images from our “Blab” conversation. We were joined by other new social media friends with stories and insights to share. Perhaps you’ll join us there soon! Or Periscope! If you follow me on twitter you’ll see my Periscope videos promoted there. Along with others like Vin who are doing great ‘scopes!
Cheering you on,