The Power of Strangers Book Summary - The Power of Strangers Book explained in key points
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The Power of Strangers summary

Joe Keohane

The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World

4.2 (168 ratings)
22 mins
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    The Power of Strangers
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    Our fear of strangers is pushing us away from each other.

    If you’re like most people in the West, you were probably brought up to fear strangers. Maybe your parents warned you not to take candy from unfamiliar adults. Perhaps your school made you watch educational videos about the risks of talking to people you don’t know.

    Our suspicion of strangers has a long history. Ever since people came together to live in settlements, we’ve seen outsiders as dangerous agents of treachery and chaos. This fear persisted right through the rise of villages, cities, and nations. Whole populations have suffered persecution for being different from the majority – for being other.

    This fear of strangers is very much alive today. If you took a road trip to Harris County, Georgia, you’d see a sign erected in 2018 by the local sheriff. It reads, “Our citizens have concealed weapons. If you kill someone, we might kill you back. We have ONE jail and 356 cemeteries. Enjoy your stay!”

    The problem is, this pervasive fear is making us more isolated than ever.

    The key message here is: Our fear of strangers is pushing us away from each other.

    Our fear of people who seem different from us can be seen in today’s climate of cultural and political alienation. Take the widespread issue of immigration. In many countries across the globe, there is a strong anti-immigration sentiment; fear and hostility are often directed toward those who are escaping war, famine, or climate change – or who are simply seeking better economic prospects.

    Hard, polarized political stances come hand-in-hand with this issue – compounding our fear of the other. Rather than entering into a debate with those who have contrasting views, we see them as our mortal enemies. We fall into silos and grow further and further apart.

    Against this backdrop, we’ve become dangerously alone. In the UK and US especially, loneliness has reached epidemic levels. And it’s no trivial matter – loneliness can be as bad for our health as smoking.

    But why has all this happened? Well, there’s a multitude of factors. 

    First, there’s increasing mobility: we move from place to place all the time, so we never form lasting relationships with our neighbors. Then, there’s globalization: we’re more likely to speak to a customer-service assistant who works on the other side of the world than to our local greengrocer. And finally, there’s the rise of technology: so often, we speak to people virtually without ever having met face-to-face.

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    What is The Power of Strangers about?

    The Power of Strangers (2021) explores why we don’t talk to strangers – and why we definitely should. It looks at how humans evolved to communicate and collaborate with strangers and reveals why our modern alienation from one another is such a problem.

    Who should read The Power of Strangers?

    • Anyone feeling lonely in the modern world
    • Those suffering from pandemic isolation
    • People interested in the psychology of communication

    About the Author

    Joe Keohane is a journalist who has worked as a senior editor at Medium, Esquire, Entrepreneur, and Hemispheres. His writing – on subjects as diverse as travel, social sciences, business, and tech – has appeared in New York magazine, the Boston Globe, the New Yorker, Wired, Boston magazine, and the New Republic.

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