Week 15 – The Melbourne Cup: celebrate humanity by talking to strangers

Happiness Challenge

I love national celebration days. America has Halloween, Brazil the Carnaval in Rio, Ireland has Saint Patrick’s Day, Germany the Oktoberfest. And Australia has the Melbourne Cup.

From the moment the sun rises on Melbourne Cup Day people start acting a bit weird. Think of the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” where folks are replaced with alien cloned replicas who behave totally out of character and you’ve pretty much got the picture. All across the country people walk straight up to total strangers and strike up lively conversations. This happens in the streets, on buses, in queues, in elevators, even in public washrooms. Incredibly, overnight everyone becomes a horse racing aficionado with opinions on racetrack surfaces, horse personalities, and the dietary habits of jockeys.

And sequined mini-skirts, tuxedos with psychedelic board shorts, and hats of the make-you-sit-up-and-gasp variety are all the fashion. In fact, the hats worn at the racecourse are so fantastically monstrous that the horses, already highly strung, have to be blinkered to prevent them galloping the wrong way around the track. Picnics and office luncheons are held everywhere. In backyards, warehouses, car parks and racetracks revellers party like there’s no tomorrow. And all this happens in a country where most Australians are hard pressed to pick one end of a horse from the other. Which begs the question – why is a nation with such a paltry understanding of the sport of kings so spellbound by a horse race?

Simply, because it gives people a chance to look beyond their status, race, or religion and bask in the fellowship of humanity. Everyone from novice punters to seasoned gamblers, from Buddhists to atheists, from high court judges to road workers, and from teenagers to grandparents can come together and celebrate. To be a member of this club all you have to do is be willing to mingle with others.


I prefer a good old fashioned face-to-face chat with a stranger to scrolling through a list of virtual Facebook friends any day. And I’m not alone. National festivals like the Melbourne Cup, Thanksgiving Day, and Saint Patrick’s Day are becoming increasingly popular because people are craving opportunities to come together as a physical community. But I’m wondering why we should limit our celebrations of life, love, and community to just these scheduled events? Why don’t we celebrate the fellowship of humanity all the time? Imagine if we did. Imagine a world where everyone made a habit of greeting strangers with enthusiasm every….day….of….the….year? Goodbye loneliness and distrust, hello togetherness and compassion. That’s why I’m proposing a World Talk to Strangers Day. But instead of it being an annual event, it will be a daily event. And you can start today – just turn to the person sitting next to you on the train and say hi.


Your turn…


How do you like to start a conversation with strangers?


Please leave your comment below.

(Selected comments will appear anonymously in my upcoming book The Happiness Challenge.)


Week 15 – The Melbourne Cup: celebrate humanity by talking to strangers
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