Did someone once tell you not to talk to strangers? A new Carbondale resident is challenging that age-old axiom with an event series designed to take people out of their comfort zones and into meaningful conversation. 

“The Lost Art of Random Conversations” is a community-building event created by Tom Karrel. The fourth and most recent session took place on Nov. 27 at the Carbondale Library and the next one will be hosted at 6 p.m. this Sunday, Dec. 11. 

These events are designed to push those in attendance to learn about someone previously unknown through a set of thoughtful questions intended to delve beneath the surface. The conversation series began at Sweet Cream Dreams, the weekend ice cream parlor at Craft Coffeehouse, but moved to the library with that business closing down.

Each session is scheduled to last around 90 minutes. The evening begins with brief introductions. Then, before people are encouraged to make eye contact and begin a conversation, breathing and check-in exercises are performed. Once everyone is feeling grounded, they are paired up and handed a list of suggested questions to ask their partner. People typically speak with one partner for 30 minutes before rotating. 

Some of the questions are serious and deep while others are a bit lighter and more fun; anything from, “If your life was a roller coaster what would it be called?” or “When’s the last time you had a good cry?” to “If there was any musician playing at your funeral one day, dead or alive, who would it be?” Respecting the privacy of attendees is also something that Karrel stresses at the beginning of each session. 

He sat down with The Sopris Sun to discuss the foundation for “The Lost Art of Random Conversations” and its goals. He said that the idea of random conversations has been an interest of his for the past eight years. Much of that time was spent living in Uganda and Karrel became fascinated with how interactions are sparked and connections are forged in different parts of the world. 

“When I was in university in grad school, then living abroad for the last five years and then back in the States, I noticed myself getting into familiar flows with old friends,” Karrel said. “‘What’s new?’; ‘How are you doing?’; similar questions that felt a bit more surface level. However, when I was traveling, it felt like a fast track to talking a bit more about emotionally deep subjects like: ‘What excites you?’; ‘What lights you up?’” 

He continued by saying that this approach in his conversations has changed the course of his life and the way he sees the world.

“I’m a huge believer that a deep presence and different types of questions can really change the way that conversations happen, whether it’s between people who have known each other for 40 years, or are just meeting for the first time, Karrel said. “I introduced the concept of active listening to these meetings as well: resisting the urge to only think about what you’re going to say in response, or think about something else.”

The event has been somewhat of a hit among the people of Carbondale, with Karrel stating that he’s received feedback from attendees that he should schedule more events in the future. He joked that if he could find a way to do this full-time and get paid for it, he would. But the next best thing is to bring it into social, school and even business settings so that people can better understand their peers and possibly reach a more collaborative and understanding approach to potential conflicts. 

It is best when attending this event to go with an open mind and be ready to actively listen to the people that you end up speaking with. You may find out that you may have a lot more in common with a random stranger than you expected. 

As mentioned, another event is scheduled for Dec. 11 at the Carbondale Library at 6 p.m. For more information, look for Karrel’s flyers around town.