by Niall Doherty

Before we get stuck into it today, a big welcome to all you new visitors to the blog. Thanks for checking out my Random Acts of Courage exploits. If you’re still unsure what the point of the whole project is, allow me to briefly explain:

Each day this week I’ve issued myself ten challenges designed to push me out of my comfort zone. For example, I spoke on national radio for Monday, sang on a street corner in the middle of the city for Tuesday, and got a piggyback ride from a stranger for Wednesday. I’m trying to do all these things without breaking any laws or being disrespectful. I guess it’s kind of like Jackass with a conscience 😉

I’m also hoping that you fine folks reading along will get out there and try a few of the challenges yourselves. I’d rather not have a passive audience.

Okay, without further ado…

Today’s loose theme is connection. The goal is to get comfortable flirting and/or connecting more deeply with people.


Here are the challenges:

  1. Offer a stranger a hug.
  2. Ask a stranger for some personal advice.
  3. Strike up a conversation with a stranger and find out 1) their greatest fear, and 2) their greatest passion.
  4. Tell your partner about a sexual fantasy you’ve always had.
  5. Tell someone a secret you’ve never told anyone else before. Make sure you do it face-to-face.
  6. Hold a conversation with a stranger for three minutes or more.
  7. Get back in contact with a childhood friend/mentor and thank them for the positive impact they’ve had on your life.
  8. Tell someone you’re attracted to that you find them attractive.
  9. Give a stranger a genuine, elaborate compliment.
  10. Flirt with the hottest girl/guy in the room.

Once again, I tried to have something in there for everyone. Feel free to tweak the challenges to suit yourself. It doesn’t matter exactly what you do; the main thing is that you step outside your comfort zone.

Here’s how I fared with the list in Cork on Wednesday…

1. Offer a stranger a hug

Rather than roam the streets like a lone psycho asking strangers for hugs, I decided to go all out and do a mini Free Hugs event. I threw a message up on the Cork Couchsurfing message board in the morning, and at noon I was at Rory Gallagher Place awaiting reinforcements.

While waiting, I realized we’d be needing some signage to do this thing right, so I ducked into a book store and was kindly donated some blank cardboard by a chap named Adrian. Unfortunately he didn’t have a marker for me to write with, so I went next door to a newsagents and got what I needed from a lovely lady named Sylvia. Good people.

Back out in the square, and I noticed that the cavalry still hadn’t arrived. I thought feck it, let’s get this thing started. I held aloft my beautifully handcrafted sign and announced to an old man walking into the shopping centre that I had a free hug with his name on it.

He shot me back a look of complete and utter disgust. Ouch!

Fortunately, some young lads standing nearby were on board with the idea and quickly came forward for a spin on the hug machine. Redeemed!

I then convinced one of them to shoot a quick video…

That’s a Couchsurfer named Ciaran you see showing up about halfway through. By our powers combined, we must have hugged about 40 people in the next 15 minutes. Some of the recipients seemed extremely grateful, others suspicious, others amused.

Two gardai walked through the square at one point. I offered them a group hug (safety in numbers), then a side-hug (less of a commitment), but they simply smiled and kept on walking.

Soon after an elderly security guard came out of the shopping centre and towards me. I offered him a hug. He wasn’t impressed.

— Who gave you permission to do this?

— Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t think we needed permission.

— Well ye do.

— Okay. May we have permission?

— You’d need to speak to a manager inside.

— [motioning towards the middle of the square] We’ll just move over here then.

We repositioned, but then came the death blow. A young man by the name of Danny came wobbling into the square, whiskey bottle in hand, shouting incomprehensibly. He squinted in our direction, then threw his arms in the air, spilling a sip of his Jack.


Danny wanted in. Ciaran and I humored him for a minute. He actually seemed like a nice guy, but we knew few people would be willing to hug a stumbling lunchtime drunk and his two buddies. It was time to move on to the next challenge…

2. Ask a stranger for some personal advice

Ciaran and Danny went their own separate ways and I wandered into TK Maxx. I knew I next wanted to try asking a stranger for some advice, but I didn’t know what advice to ask for. Strolling aimlessly through footwear, I tried to think of something legitimate, a real problem of mine that needed solving.

Finally one hit me.

I looked up and saw a striking blonde girl adjusting some shelving ten paces to my left. I headed straight for her.

— Excuse me, I wonder if I could ask you for some advice.

— [with a Polish accent] Yes, of course.

— [realizing her English might be poor] Do you know what the word flatulence means?

She didn’t. But she did know the meaning of the word fart.

With my best poker face, I proceeded to explain to this beautiful woman how frequently I pass gas, and asked if she could suggest a corrective course of action. Her name was Evelina, and she thought I was hilarious.

— Are we on camera, for TV?

— Not at all. I’d say you don’t fart much yourself, do you?

— [jaw dropped, shaking her head]

— Exactly! Maybe it’s my diet that’s the problem. What do you eat?

I stayed with her for a minute more, conceding a cheeky smile before I left so she knew for sure I was just having some fun.

(Oh, but I wasn’t lying about my flatulence problem. That’s real. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated in the comments 😉

3. Strike up a conversation with a stranger and find out a) their greatest fear, and b) their greatest passion.

After the fart conversation I made a quick stop at the English Market to pick up some veggies, then headed towards the Peace Park. On the bench nearest the gate, I found an elderly gentleman sitting reading the paper. He had thick glasses and a round face. I asked if I could join him. He said go right ahead.

— [getting settled] Would you mind if I asked you a strange question?

— What kind of question?

— Actually, it’s a two-part question…

His name was John, and he told me that my two-part question was something that would require some thought. We bantered back and forth for a minute as he worked out his response. He decided his greatest fear would be going blind. He was less clear on his greatest passion, but noted that he’s happiest when he can get out of the house for a while and enjoy the fresh air.

I talked with John a little more about life and the outdoors, then thanked him for his time and left. I had a savage hunger on me, and a big bowl of soup waiting at home.

4. Tell your partner about a sexual fantasy you’ve always had

Since I’m currently single, I’m off the hook for this challenge. I’ve included it for all you committed folks out there. You’ve been getting off lightly since you can’t in good conscience take on all those flirt-with-a-stranger type challenges I’ve been posting. But you’ve got no excuse for this one 😉

Now before you go texting your other half about your tamakeri fetish, remember to keep one thing in mind: Just because you tell them about it, doesn’t mean they have to do it. Keep your expectations in check. The goal here is simply to be a little more open and honest with your partner. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

5. Tell someone a secret you’ve never told anyone else before. Make sure you do it face-to-face.

After lunch I headed back into town to meet for the first time with a Couchsurfer named Aurelien (from France, living in Ireland). He’d heard about Random Acts of Courage on the Cork message board and had asked if I’d like to meet today for a coffee and a chat. We hit up Tribes and talked for more than an hour. I showed him the day’s list of challenges scribbled on my notepad, and told him he might as well be the person I revealed a secret to.

One problem: I was all out of secrets. I’d blown my load with these two posts.

The best I could do was tell Aurelien about the time I almost burnt down an entire row of evergreens next to my parents house. I was seven years old and trying to light a small campfire with petrol and Zip logs. When it all started going horribly wrong I ran back into the house, hid the matches I’d swiped from the high press, and informed my Mother of the strange fire of unknown origin that was devouring one side of the driveway.

I felt really bad about that. My parents of course knew that I was to blame for it all, but seeing how traumatic it was for me they figured I’d learned my lesson and let me believe that they were baffled as to the cause of the blaze.

Kids, never play with matches.

6. Hold a conversation with a stranger for three minutes or more

After Tribes I walked with Aurelien to the GPO and we said our goodbyes. I crossed the road and poked my head into a pub called the Old Oak. The rest of my body soon followed.

I sat at the corner of the bar, facing the side of a man about my father’s age. I can’t even remember what I said to initiate the conversation, but before long I’d learned that his name was Gerry and he was in the shellfish business. He once owned a pub in Cork called The Traveler’s Rest, but quit that and the drinking some time ago. He still liked to be social though and so there he sat before me nursing a soda water.

Since he kicked his alcohol addiction, Gerry has tried to make the most of his talent for writing. He’s published three books of short stories and is working on a fourth. He believes his best work is a story he wrote about two young lovers who thought their dreams had come through when they scored a pair of tickets for the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. The story ends as the ship pulls anchor.

I tried to listen to Gerry more than talk to him. He looked to be just another random head when I first laid eyes on him, but I left the Old Oak believing him to be a remarkable man. One of the last things he said to me: “It’s good to meet a young fella who appreciates my ramblings.”

7. Get back in contact with a childhood friend/mentor and thank them for the positive impact they’ve had on your life

I bumped into my Cuz outside the Old Oak. He was jonesing for a latte, so we made tracks for Coffee Roasters.

On the way I called up my Dad and asked if he had a number for Nelly Roche. She was the lady who used to look after me every day before I started school back in the 80’s. My mother would drop me off at Nelly’s house on her way to work and I’d spend the next seven hours playing with lego and running around the garden like the happiest kid in the world.

Yeah, I had fond memories of my time at Nelly’s house, and I figured today would be as good a day as any to call her up and thank her for being so nice to me all those years ago. I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in almost two decades.

My Dad had to do a little snoop work to track down her number and called me back with it a while later. I finished up the legendary chat I was having with the Cuz and walked back across the river all by my lonesome. I dialed the number I had just gotten as I made my way up Patrick’s Street.

Nelly was delighted to hear from me, but I was sad to learn that she and her husband are both battling cancer. “We’re just trying to take each day as it comes,” she said with a shake in her voice. I told Nelly why I was calling: “I wanted to say thanks for being so nice to me all those years ago. I really appreciate it.” She seemed genuinely touched.

I spent five minutes on the phone with Nelly. She asked about what I’d been doing in America and my plans for the future. She also invited me to drop in for a cup of tea the next time I’m down home visiting the parents. I told her I’d see her in a few weeks.

I hung up the phone as I approached Oliver Plunkett Street, feeling like a better human being than I had been five minutes earlier.

8. Tell someone you’re attracted to that you find them attractive

It was almost 7 o clock and I had three more challenges left on my list. I felt I could rip through all of them pretty quick if I could only find a pub full of people. I started bar hopping, looking for a party. I went in and out of four pubs in ten minutes. They were all dead.

The fifth pub I entered was The Raven on South Main Street. Inside I found a grand total of six people. There was a couple in the back, two middle-aged guys at one end of the bar, and the barmaid chatting with her friend at the other. The barmaid was attractive with a capital A and everything after. I asked her if she could recommend a busy night spot. Seeing as how it was Australia Day (news to me), she suggested I check out some Aussie bar back on the North Side.

“Can you show me where that is?”

Barmaid led me out the front door to point the way. Her directions went in one ear and out the other as I began to realize that I had everything I needed right there at The Raven. I wasn’t going anywhere. I stopped her mid sentence…

“I’m sorry, I just want to tell you — and I mean this in the most respectful way possible — that I find you very attractive.”

Her name was Aislinn, she was from West Cork, and she knew how to take a compliment. She seemed happy to chat with me outside for a few minutes.

9. Flirt with the hottest girl/guy in the room

Aislinn was definitely that. Or at least she was when we were indoors. Now she was the hottest girl on South Main Street. It was time for me to flirt with her.

Except I didn’t have much confidence in my flirting skills. See, I can never tell what qualifies as flirting and what’s just friendly chat. Does flirting have to be sexual? Can it just be a little more eye contact than usual? Does one of us have to lick our lips or something? I wasn’t sure where the line was that I wanted to cross. Maybe I’d already crossed it.

All of this was going through my head as Aislinn told me about her studies at UCC and how her dream job would be anything that didn’t involve hardcore mathematics. I decided to voice the thoughts in my brain…

— Question: Have I been flirting with you?

— Um, I don’t know, have you?

— I’m not sure.

— I’m usually oblivious to that kind of thing. I’m not great at flirting.

— Me neither… [thinking for a second] … Here, I know! We can practice on each other!

I had her laughing. We went back inside and she poured me an orange juice at the empty side of the bar.

— Okay, me first: I like your hair. Now you.

— [smiling] Um… you’re very charming.

This went on for a minute or two. Then Aislinn brought it to my attention that I was causing her to ignore her friend at the end of the bar. So I relocated and introduced myself to Maeve. She was from Australia. The three of us chatted for a while before Maeve excused herself to go to the bathroom.

While she was gone, I told Aislinn I had a confession to make.

— Oh?

— Yeah, see I actually came in here with an agenda tonight.

I told her about Random Acts of Courage. She sounded skeptical, so I took out my notebook and showed her my list. She looked through it with an amused look on her face as I crossed off #8. Only two were left unchecked.

— Can you guess which one I’m working on right now?

She guessed quickly, and then she blushed.

10. Give a stranger a genuine, elaborate compliment.

Maeve came back to join us and I explained to her what the list was all about. Then I launched into a whole spiel about how difficult it can be to deliver an elaborate compliment in Ireland, since most Irish folks are very bad at accepting such.

— We’re pretty good about accepting them in Australia.

— Really? Would you mind if I gave you one then?

— Go for it.

I proceeded to compliment Maeve on her nice smile, her clear skin, the way she was dressed, the style of her hair, and her impressive physique. Every word was genuine.

She accepted graciously.

11. Bonus challenge!

I turned my attention back to Aislinn behind the bar and told her that I had now completed all my challenges for the day and should be heading home soon, but first I wanted to revisit one of the challenges that I had failed to complete from the day before.

— What was it?

— Ask someone attractive out on a date.

— [smiling, sincere] Wow. You might be the most charming man I’ve ever met.

— Thanks! So, what do you say?

— Well I’m kind of seeing someone at the moment.

— Is he as charming as me?

— [laughing] No, but he’s very good looking.

— [smiling] As am I, so I guess I have him beat 2-1.

Aislinn went to get the middle-aged dudes another round. I wrote down my name and number on a page of my notebook and gave it to her when she came back.

— When you’ve had enough of the other guy, you should give me a buzz.

I then convinced the hottest girl in the room to pose for a photo with me, before I wished both her and Maeve a happy Australia Day and headed for the door.

Next up

Tomorrow (Friday) is the last day of Random Acts of Courage. It will be all about embracing change and uncertainty. Among other things, I’ll be hopping on a random bus, asking a butcher for his thoughts on veganism, and forgetting to wear any underwear. Check back for the full list of challenges and a field report.

[UPDATE] Friday’s Random Acts of Courage: Shaving my head, going commando, and hopping on a random bus