By Brenda Riojas, I Start Wondering Columnist
Getting lost can be a good thing. The experience of exploring new locales and talking to strangers can stir the creative spirit, rousing it to take notice or spark some surprises.
During a morning walk in Rome, Italy recently, I took a few wrong lefts and rights in Monteverde, a neighborhood I did not know well. I wasn’t too worried. My phone’s GPS app was near at hand if needed and I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere. However, finding my way back to the hotel provided some chance encounters and impromptu interviews that felt like a shot of expresso.
Opening Up The Senses to Surprise
Naturally, recognizing I was off course I became more alert. But in the process of retracing my steps, I took time to explore the neighborhood. I zigzagged in and out of local shops until finally I found some courage to practice the little Italian I know. How uncanny that my chance encounters took place on Via Guido Cavalcanti, a street named after a 13th century Italian poet.
Talking to strangers — no matter where you are — pushes you out of your comfort zone, helps you meet new people, and you never know what you might learn. Each encounter can serve as a dose of inspiration.
I was particularly inspired by the two artists I met in Rome, Stefania Duranti, a ceramic artist, and Elena Binni, a clothing designer. Learning what stimulates their projects and about their processes, I observed how closely each woman connected their work to their environment. Listening to each woman talk about her work, you could feel the joy they find in creating. This comes from their passion for their art.
Stafania in her ceramic shop, l’Argilla, and Elena in her space for art and tailoring, Lo Spazio dell’arte e sartorial, immerse themselves in work. They commit daily to creating, and not just for themselves. They create pieces that add value to others, that have a purpose.
It was a joy as well to observe how they incorporate their studio with their businesses, surrounded by their tools and materials, creating what they love in their neighborhood community.
Drawing Out Strangers
I realize, as I write this, I have many more questions I would like to ask them. How often, I wonder, do strangers wander into their studios for a random interview? What impressions did that leave them with?
I discovered getting lost helped me make time for chance encounters. Unfortunately, my schedule sometimes keeps me so focused that I miss these opportunities close to home.
When we talk to strangers, we can practice “humble inquiry.” Edgar H. Schein in his book “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling” reminds us questions can build relationships. He notes too often we seem to be more focused on telling than asking. “The missing ingredient in most conversations,” he says, “are curiosity and willingness to ask questions to which we do not already know the answer.”
He first defined “humble inquiry” in his book, “Helping,” where he notes, “Humble inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, asking questions to which we do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”
Now that I am back in Texas, I hope to talk to more strangers and practice more asking then telling.