Came across this absolutely weird but definitely very cool piece of news while browsing through Shyam’s blog today. Here’s an excerpt from the article to give you some idea of what I’m talking about.
‘The (‘Borrow a Person’) idea, which comes from Scandinavia, is simple: instead of books, readers can come to the library and borrow a person for a 30-minute chat. The human “books” on offer vary from event to event but always include a healthy cross-section of stereotypes. Last weekend, the small but richly diverse list included Police Officer, Vegan, Male Nanny and Lifelong Activist as well as Person with Mental Health Difficulties and Young Person Excluded from School.’
Sounds strange, isn’t it? One of the commentators on the news article’s web page had this to say – ‘Has society really come to this? It wasn’t that long ago that talking to a stranger on the street was commonplace.’ Now that’s a valid point, I’ll concede. It reminds me of my maternal grandmother in fact, who had a habit of befriending most, if not all, of the occupants of any train compartment she happened to be traveling in.
The conversation would usually start with an innocuous ‘So where are you going today?’ that lulled the opposite person into a false sense of security. Before long, however, the entire life history of not just the occupant, but most of his immediate family including second cousins and neighbours was an object of a free-for-all discussion in the train! To be fair to my grandma, she was equally unstinting in her own revelations too. Is it any surprise then, that most of us in the family would quake at the prospect of accompanying grandma on one of her train journeys?
Yes, grandma would probably have a similar comment on this news article – ‘What has the world come to that two strangers cannot swap their innermost secrets without resorting to a fad like this strange ‘Borrow a Person’ library?’, she would mutter. Oh well, my apologies for getting sidetracked by grandma and her quirks! This is a huge topic, believe me, meriting a special post entitled ‘Grandma and the Gift of the Gab’. Remind me to get down to it someday!
On a more serious note, my take on this is simple. Yes, it would be nice if people were able to talk to each other in everyday social situations instead. But given the kind of world we live in right now, where less and less of our social interactions come from informal moms-chatting-in-the-park-like settings, the opportunity to interact with interesting people from diverse backgrounds is fascinating, methinks.
The article I’ve linked to mentioned that ‘everyone carried stories inside them but had little chance to tell them’. How true! But the problem with sharing these stories is that most people place a huge premium on private space these days. So even if I am your good friend and I know you’ve gone through a good/bad experience which I’m eager to know about because I’m experiencing something similar or I’ve always been fascinated by it, I will hesitate to broach the topic because that might be construed as ‘invading your private space’.
Sounds familiar? Take my own example. We have a Jewish-American friend in office who happened to mention during lunch break one day that his parents had been in Nazi Germany during the war. Now I’ve read innumerable books on the holocaust and would have been very interested to hear more but didn’t dare prod him further. What if he found the topic too personal to talk about? A person who agrees to be a ‘book’ in this project is negating his right to privacy in that sense. Which is fine really, since the the decision is his/her own and purely voluntary of course.
Could discussing your life story with a complete stranger be something akin to free therapy? I sure think so! Will it lead to a fruitful exchange of ideas, a broader view of the world and our fellow-men and women in general? Might we become more tolerant as a result? Does this idea have the potential to destroy the politics of hate and intolerance being preached everywhere? Yes on all counts, I say!
And think of the opportunity to solve pressing global issues from simple person-to-person contact! Imagine an American chatting with an Iraqi, an Israeli with a Palestinian, a would-be terrorist with his potential victims, a policeman with a goon, a bureaucrat with a man on the street, a self-appointed member of the moral brigade with a bar dancer… The possibilities are endless!
(And lets face it, even grandma would be hard pressed to chat up with a goon or a bar dancer for example. Where would she find the opportunity to meet such folks for starters? In a train compartment, you say? Perhaps you are right. Lets exclude grandma from the list, shall we? The ‘Borrow a Person’ idea is obviously meant for lesser mortals like us!)
Edited to add: I later realized that our blogs are somewhat similar to this project in the sense that we do share our personal thoughts and experiences with complete strangers here. But the barrier of privacy is in place in the blogosphere too. Unless I am a very close friend, I would hesitate to question you more on a topic on which you choose to reveal only so much. Do you guys agree?