I was in the airport last week, and I noticed that most people had their heads bowed—not in prayer but in their cell phones. Proof once again that we are living in an increasingly heads-down world. Not only do people not talk to one another, they don’t even look at one another. Tragic, really, because you never know what fascinating things can happen when you actually talk to those invisible people who cross your path in life.

Just a little smile or hello can open a conversation. Ask someone his/her name, show a little curiosity, and you never know what a difference it may make for you and for him. I am reminded of this several times each week.

Here’s my latest reminder…with a tow truck driver during my travels last weekend.

My husband and I were driving home from a family function with his sister and her husband. We needed a tow truck to help with what we thought was a slow leak in our tire after we hit a pothole on the road. We had called AAA several times to state our location. After much confusion regarding where we were, the first truck finally arrived, but the truck driver did not have the air hose that we thought we needed for the repair. Ugh!

We called for a second tow truck. By this time, we had been on the road four hours…for what should have been a two-hour drive. All four of us were tired and hungry and not in the mood to explain, yet again, where we were.

When the new tow truck arrived, it took the driver 30 seconds to diagnose a bad slash in the tire that couldn’t be repaired and offer us a “free ride” in the tow truck. My sister-in-law and I climbed in, and the driver—a seemingly abrupt and sullen man—did his driver business while she and I revised our dinner plans.

Since we were going to be in this small space for at least the next half-hour, I asked the driver his name (Yazid), and he became a whole new person. Chatty, warm and open. We talked about Yazid’s 19 years as a tow truck driver…his love of his job and the crazy array of situations he experienced on the California highways. We even got a belly laugh from him when “the boys” sitting in the disabled car on the truck’s flatbed texted to ask if we could go through a drive-through—preferably one tall enough to accommodate the tow truck—for a snack.

By the time Yazid dropped us off, we had discovered that we had common roots in New Jersey and that we all were believers in bringing care and pride to our work. Yazid had fun with his new “favorite passengers,” and we gained a whole lot of understanding about the life of those tow truck–driving heroes. All because I asked his name.

We all wear our protective armor to the outside world, sometimes more armor and sometimes less depending on where we are, our mood or even how hungry or distracted we are. But in my view, that protection is costing us dearly if we slip from self-defense into apathy. Human connection is what fuels our souls and adds fascination to our lives.

Another story…this one from the land of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

Over Christmas vacation, we were out west for some family skiing—except there wasn’t enough snow and I was feeling like I might be catching the flu. So one afternoon, I went to soak in the nearby mineral hot springs to try to “cook out” my illness. A couple entered the pool near me, and we exchanged hellos. I don’t remember how we started talking, but Bob and Sherry said they were visiting their newborn grandchild who lived nearby. Hearing their story and listening to their accent, I made a huge error, prejudging them to be very lovely simple folk with whom I would trade niceties for a few minutes. Boy, was I wrong.

An hour-and-a-half later, I had been educated by these two medical-device professionals about their industry and a new treatment for thrombosis that is in clinical trials. We also had a fascinating discussion about the controversy surrounding using rife frequency generators, which create electromagnetic frequencies to combat medical conditions, to treat Lyme disease.

It would have been really easy to simply nod at the new people in the pool and return silently to my soaking. Instead, I made new connections and once again had my eyes opened to areas outside my usual box.

My husband refers to my inquisitive conversations with strangers as giving them the “full Sarah Hiner,” learning pretty much their whole life story within about seven minutes. But the thing is, I truly am interested. I live in a bubble, as we all do, surrounded by people who live similar lives and have similar jobs. It’s comfortable but limiting when you stop and think about the huge diversity that exists around us—culturally, economically, demographically and socially. Living heads-down keeps us in that bubble.

I find it fascinating to peek into what goes on in those other worlds. And it really doesn’t take much to get someone talking. You just have to be a little curious, give a little smile and say, “What’s your name?”