Paul McFarlane learned many valuable lessons about people during his 21 years as a chaplain for NSW Ambulance, 11 of them as senior chaplain.

Paul, the 248th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, spoke with thousands of paramedics and members of the public during that time, many of whom had experienced profound trauma or great loss. It gave him deep insights into how people function.

For example, Paul discovered the way we respond to tragedy is heavily influenced by the strength of our social network. People who are able to rely on a circle of close family and friends tend to cope better than people who are socially isolated.

Another lesson Paul learned is that no matter how perfect our lives might look on the outside, we all have internal battles we’re fighting.

Paul also learned how important it is for people to have a sense of purpose and to feel as though their lives have some sort of deeper meaning. Otherwise, they can feel lost.

Paul grew up in country New South Wales. He started his career as a nurse, before becoming an Anglican minister. In 2011, he moved to Sydney to take up the position as senior chaplain, a job he held until earlier this month. Next week, Paul is starting a new role he’s really excited about – national onsite services manager and principal chaplain at Converge International, which is one of the largest EAP (employee assistance program) providers in Australia.

I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour, so it was incredibly interesting to hear about Paul’s experiences as a chaplain and minister, and the lessons he’s learned.

One thing that struck me about Paul was how suited he is to that type of work. He cares deeply about people, he’s genuinely interested in everyone’s unique story and – despite his vast experience – he has the humility to recognise he doesn’t have all the answers.