Having just ridden on the Toronto subway line last night, I can say firsthand how sad a sight the experience has become. We stand or sit amongst hundreds of people without exchanging more than an awkward glance or an occasional single word — usually to excuse ourselves away from them.

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How did we as a collective — especially in major cities — become so disconnected from one another? When did walking on a sidewalk without acknowledging or greeting anyone unfamiliar become the norm? And how did it get to the point that anyone who openly breaks those barriers is often seen as crazy, or at the very least a major source of discomfort?

Breaking out of this widespread custom certainly isn’t easy, but that didn’t stop Thomas C. Knox from not only doing so, but also taking it to an impressively creative level.

Through an initiative he calls Date While You Wait, Thomas stations himself on a busy New York City subway platform seated at a table. On that table is a bristle board sign explaining his purpose, a fun and quick game to be played with, and an empty chair across from him available for anyone else to take.

Despite sounding quite romantic, the ongoing social experiment is anything but, as Thomas openly invites both men and women to join him for a game, conversation, or, even better, a bit of both. His initiative caught the attention of The Huffington Post recently, who put together this short video showcasing some of the heartwarming interactions Knox has inspired thus far:

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Having organized several social experiments here at CE, it’s always particularly interesting to see how varied people’s responses are. Some openly embrace the interaction and others do so apprehensively, but most opt to steer clear of it entirely, despite displaying clear curiosity and what I often perceive as a suppressed desire to partake.

One particular barrier-challenging social experiment we’ve organized on several occasions are free hug zones, usually in the busiest sections of Downtown Toronto. You can watch two videos that we’ve put together over the years of these events, one from August 2015 and the other from May 2010.

As both Thomas’s experiment and our free hug events exemplify, those who do choose to interact usually have a good time doing so. Something as simple as a hug, or as refreshing as a conversation with a stranger, can go a long way towards brightening our day and encouraging us to connect with one another more often.

A lot of great things have come from established communities, all of which grew to be what they are through strangers coming together. Let’s use Thomas’s Date While You Wait project to remind ourselves to break social barriers and bring ourselves closer together rather than further apart.

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