Davy Rothbart, Random Human Connections & TED

Davy Rothbart, Found Magazine creator and author, discovered a note precariously perched on the windshield of his automobile one snowy Chicago night. It read:

It was obvious that the writer had mistaken Rothbart’s car for that of poor Mario. Nevertheless, amused at his discovery,  he shared the note with his friends. It was such a hit that he decided to keep his eyes peeled for other intriguing notes, pictures and objects.

Rothbart coined the items he gathered as “finds” and began calling for submissions from people throughout the US. The following are some of the first “finds” that were shared in 2001.

Now, 10 years later, Found Magazine is larger than ever, with numerous finds from people all around the world. In celebration of the 10th anniversary, Rothbart set out on a 79 city tour last year throughout the U.S. His objective was to discover what people most want to know about each other.

The question posed to all audiences: “If you could ask a stranger any question, what would it be?”

What gave him this idea?

“I grew up in a home with parents who were never afraid to ask difficult questions, especially my Mom,” said Rothbart during a recent phone interview with First To Know.

According to Rothbart, his mother is a deep soul who pushed herself to connect with others, despite the fact that she is deaf. “You can always count Mom to ask the tough questions. I’ll never forget the day I invited my new girlfriend to spend the holidays with my family. Her parents had died when she was younger, and she didn’t have a family to celebrate with. Within the first handful of minutes, my Mom throws everything out on the table and asks my girlfriend if the holidays are difficult without her parents.”

“Of course the answer was ‘yes.’ Wildly enough, my girlfriend really appreciated my Mom’s frank questioning. With everything out in the open, we could all connect in a very authentic way.”

One of Rothbart’s quests is to reveal a lack of human interaction leads to isolation, which results in dissatisfaction for many. “What became more and more apparent throughout my tour is that humanity craves most of the same things, yet we envision our needs as wholly unique.”

Common concerns he identified include money, career, health family members and life destiny. “When we dare to ask each other the deep questions in life, we have the opportunity to connect on a real and raw level. This is super healing for most anyone,” said Rothbart.

That theme continues in his recently released TED Book  How Did You End Up Here?: The Surprising Ways Our Questions Connect Us. In it, Rothbart shares 100 of his favorite questions and essays that help the reader learn how to better connect with strangers.

“Talking to a random stranger requires that you are willing to ask how a person is, how their day is going, and what they are up to,” explained Rothbart. “Once most people are aware that you have a genuine interest in their lives, they are willing to open up in amazing ways.”

Rothbart believes the same concept applies to dating, saying, “I’ve found that the less I hold back, the more intimate my understanding of the person. It feels good to connect on a deeper level. Plus, direct questions also make it easier to identify the right partner.”

But for Rothbart, there’s a larger message derived from Found Magazine, his tour, and the recently released book. “The more closed an individual is, the smaller his or her world. The more open, the more expansive their existence.”