We want so badly to connect but often don’t see how—we want our souls and our struggles to be seen and heard.
I think that most people are ready to spill open.
You may be thinking that nobody really wants to listen—but I promise you, we’re out there. And we believe that your story matters.
A couple weeks ago, I stumbled across The Strangers Project. I fell in love, immediately. Brandon Doman, founder of The Strangers Project, has found a way to show people that he’s here to listen and I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with him.
Below is an excerpt from our interview.
J.G: So I’ve done a little research, but I’d still like to know exactly what The Strangers Project is and what it means to you.
Brandon: The Strangers Project is a collection of anonymous journal entries shared by strangers. At it core, though, it grown to be much more. And I believe it’s something a little different for everyone. It’s a place to share stories, to see the world through others’ eyes, and a place to feel connected and heard.
J.G: I love that—I have to admit I’ve thought of doing this many times. So how do you go from sitting in a coffee shop people watching to acting on this, and actually asking people to tell you their stories? Were you intimidated?
Brandon: You know, looking back I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what made me start it. I’ve always been fascinated by stories and I’ve always loved people. But I’ve also been shy for a lot of my life. When I started this, it was a spontaneous decision to just go for it. I didn’t have a plan when I started—I just knew I wouldn’t feel satisfied if I didn’t try. The first day started by literally taking a marker and a notebook that I had on me and setting up a sign. It was just a “now or never” moment. But I’m so glad I took that step.
J.G: Those kind of sporadic decisions always end up being great! Definitely in this case.
Brandon: Yeah, two of my first participants were these two women who saw the sign and asked what I was doing. I told them I wasn’t quite sure, but asked if they’d write something about their lives in my notebook and that was kind of the start of it.
J.G: Were you surprised that people were so eager to share?
Brandon: Yeah, it was pretty scary starting out. Even now, four years later, I get a familiar pang of uncertainty the first time I go out after a span on not collecting (like after winter). The moment someone stops by, that all goes away. People have been so incredibly supportive of the project from the first day.
J.G: That’s great! It’s such a simple concept and I love that people are so receptive.
Brandon: It’s happened a few times, but it’s always really touching when someone shares their story or reads a bunch of the stories I have set out and ask if they can give me a hug afterwards.
J.G: That must be such a great feeling. Do you think that you if saw someone collecting stories, you’d stop by and share?
Brandon: Ha, I’ve done a number of interviews and I’ve always wondered when someone would finally ask that! It’s a difficult question for me. Honestly, I don’t know if I would. Not at first at least, but I’d certainly stop and ask them what they were doing. I’d be incredibly interested—but I’ve always been hesitant to journal. Hopefully they’d talk me in to it—I run into that a lot when I’m collecting, and usually I can help people feel comfortable sharing. A lot of time that includes sharing my own hesitation to journal myself.
J.G: Journaling is intimating, I agree. I read on your website that you think it’s our capacity for being human that’s our great equalizer. Can you elaborate on that?
Brandon: By “being human” there I mean the ability to connect and empathize with each other through story.
The thought really solidified from one experience I had a couple years ago in the project. This older gentleman, probably in his late 70s or early 80s, stopped by and asked what I was doing. He seemed pretty dismissive, but curious. We chatted for a while and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, so I asked if he’d be willing to just read some of the stories himself. He agreed and started reading the entires I had set out. I expected him to read one or two and jump back into our conversation, but he kept flipping through the binder. All and all, he read for almost an hour.
At the end of it all he thanked me, told me how he had forgotten that people younger than him were still people.
I believe that stories are one of the strongest tools that humans have invented.
J.G: I completely agree. I love that this project helps people see that their story matters. Every story that they share matters.
Brandon: Yeah. Unfortunately, I’m not able to share every story (yet—we’re working on that), but I read every single one and I make sure the participants know that.
According to Brandon, The Strangers Project means something different to everyone. It’s ultimately about comfort, familiarity and being human. What greater connection than the one we all share at the most basic molecular level?
You have a beating heart? Well what do you know, so do I! Let’s bond.
I know that some of our hearts weigh more than others; I know that we’re all hardened joints and jaded skin, but we’re also soft tissue and aching vessels waiting to burst open and spill onto each other. It takes a culmination of human endeavor and human ability—two things we are all full of.
The sharing of stories has the ability to heal, and The Strangers Project makes it that simple. It helps people merge and surrender to each other—and that’s what we’re here for.
We are one single thread, split billions of ways to make room for the strands that compose our individual selves.
But the strands always connect to a greater garment.
We will always find a commonality.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise