The first definition on Dictionary.com of Stranger is: “A person with whom one has had no personal acquaintance.”
According to this definition, every person we have not personally been acquainted with is a stranger. Meanwhile, nearly all of us have been raised with the teaching, “Don’t talk to strangers!” Strangers are dangerous and scary and cannot be trusted, right? Well, if we do not talk to strangers, how are we ever to meet anyone new in this world? If we don’t talk to strangers, how do we make friends?
Last night, at a friend’s apartment, I was fortunate enough to meet some wonderful people. Of course, the people I met were strangers before, but thanks to us having a mutual friend as well as being in close proximity to one another, we were able to overcome our cultural programming, “talk to strangers,” and so we met each other and formed new bonds of friendship. No telling what our new friendship may grow into, but certainly my life has improved since talking to those crazy strangers.
Most of us would probably agree that it’s okay to “talk to strangers” if the stranger is a friend of a friend. In this case, the stranger has credibility and is socially validated by your mutual friend. However, what about times when we are around strangers and no such mutual friend is there to acquaint us? Is that when strangers become eerily dangerous and creepy?
No, no, no! Strangers are fantastic people – just like you! To judge a stranger to the extreme that you’ll refuse communication with them based on the mere notion that they are, in fact, a stranger, is completely absurd and a tragic norm in our culture today. We tend to distrust people and think that everyone who is not our friend is out to get us. What happened to genuine goodwill amongst people?
One of my favorite YouTube clips is a speech by Charlie Chaplin in one of his movies. (You can watch the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WibmcsEGLKo) Among other brilliant ideas, Mr. Chaplin reminds us of how good we are as a people. We are genuinely good! To think that we should shut ourselves out from the beauty of the world and of people, because strangers are supposedly dangerous, is depriving us of growing in our awareness of the joys of Creation.
If we move through the world not talking to strangers because we think anyone we don’t know is suspicious, we have essentially created a paranoid world. That sounds fun! Oh wait, no it doesn’t. That sounds miserable. To think that everyone is out there to hurt us is a sad, sad, world, and so far from the truth.
By no means are there are no dangerous people out there; these people certainly exist. But really, one of the worst ways to protect ourselves against such individuals is to ignore them and not talk to them. Only by talking to people do we get any sense of who they are. Unless, of course, we all have glasses that look deep into the moral architecture of a person without ever needing to hear a word from them to accurately perceive character. I would like such glasses, but I think those might just be for God.
The only way we can ever have a sense of understanding so that we reach the point where not talking to another makes sense is by first talking to them! Unless we talk to a person, we will never know if that person is a good person to talk to or not.
I think we will pleasantly surprise ourselves when we become more trusting of people and exchange friendly greetings with people we do not know. Many of us move through the world like zombies, heads down and completely oblivious to the happenings of the external world. We miss out on the joy and beauty of nature, as well as the goodness of the people flowing around us.
Please, talk to strangers! Encourage others to do the same. Experience for yourself that people are genuinely good. Whatever you give, you shall receive. The more people we talk to, the more we grow in our understanding of the true nature of people, and hopefully we will all come to realize the cultural untruths we are taught from a very young age.
I read a quote last night that resonates well with the notion that much of what we are taught and currently teaching to children is not only incorrect but also detracts from our quality of life:
“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” – Gloria Steinem
Remember: all of the people you love most in this world, were, at one point, simply – strangers.