Today I saw an ad for a video called “Stranger Safety.” It’s supposed to teach your children how to be safe around strangers.
Thinking about it afterward, I realized that there is this mentality – driven into our collective mindset over many years – that ALL strangers are not to be trusted; that ALL strangers are bad and will hurt us. And I’m not sure it’s a good mentality to have.
It certainly explains the current trend of “public solitude” that I see in increasing amounts in our society today. I used to think that maybe it was just there were too many people these days – cities and towns were too crowded, and you just couldn’t know everyone, so you kept to yourself. But I think it goes beyond that – we’ve been indoctrinated with the belief that if we don’t know someone, they are bad.
This has some wide-ranging implications, and I don’t just mean keeping to yourself on the subway or something like that. When we are taught to not trust strangers, the implication is that we must implicitly trust people we know. This fragments our society – suddenly, the people we know are “right” and everyone else is “wrong.” Instead of being one big group of people, united as a culture, a nation, or whatever, we become segmented into cliques – and our opposition to those we see as “wrong” becomes more and more violent. Just look at the fighting between our two dominant political parties – the Democrats and the Republicans. Despite all that, they really are quite alike – more alike than they are different, anyway. So why do they fight?
Because the opposition is always made up of “strangers.” And strangers are “bad.” And in an atmosphere of fear (such as the one we currently live in), it’s easy to get riled up and defensive of one’s own “group.”
Don’t believe me? Go watch some political coverage. Watch both sides. Read some stuff on the Internet or in your paper from people who disagree with you, and see if the rhetoric isn’t tinged with a certain “get off my lawn” madness.
The point is, not all strangers are bad – and in a good society, the odds are that most strangers will in fact be quite good and helpful. Even given the bad things that one bad egg could do to you as a stranger, the odds are still very, very low that it will happen to you – and the potential trade-offs in terms of enrichment of your life, or even just feeling better about things, and feeling accepted by your community – could make it worth the risk.
So think about it. And the next time you pass a stranger, resist the impulse to keep your head down and avoid eye contact and instead say “hi!” Chances are, nothing bad will happen to you. And once that kind of thinking beings to spread, I think we’ll all be a lot happier.