In America, it’s common for people to avoid strangers–out of fear, discomfort, annoyance or all of the above. But in her new book, When Strangers Meet, Kio Stark argues that random encounters can be surprisingly beneficial. Specifically: the kinds that occur when you strike up a casual conversation with someone in an elevator or ask for directions on the street (though it’s important to respect the boundaries of people who clearly don’t want to talk). It can be extremely rewarding–and even intimate–to talk to someone without encountering the kinds of preconceived notions that come with friends and spouses. Moreover, studies show that repeated exposure to and connection with people outside our bubble can make us more accepting of difference. That’s good for society in general, Stark writes, because it leads “us away from fear and … toward openness, cooperation and genuine understanding.”
This appears in the September 26, 2016 issue of TIME.