In Defense of Strangers
The word “strange” originally meant “being beyond the usual bounds or boundaries,” and evolved to mean foreign only later. The notion of foreignness eventually became personified in the word “stranger”—a new or unknown person. A person beyond the usual bounds or boundaries. Outsider, newcomer, a person who is, whatever else they may be, assuredly not one of “us.”
Humans are instinctively tribal. We have a deep drive protect our own tribe and look on all others with suspicion. Strangers represent the unknown, and the unknown can either scare us or excite us. Some of us live for newness and adventure even as some of us prefer to stay home.
But there is no doubt that we humans are born wanderers. Of course we are, or we never would be explored and settled in Easter Island, Greenland, or Argentina. And where did it get us? We learned! We discovered! We invented and we progressed.
We crossed paths with people who were different from us in body, color, and customs. We advanced, we loved, we blended, and yes, too often we killed and conquered. Because even as we wandered, too many of us continued to look upon each other with suspicion, unable to discern our similarities. In “stranger” we saw “threat,” and “threat” made us afraid, made us feel we needed to protect our homes, our families, and our egos.
Oh, the ego. The jealous, insatiable succubus inside of us that blinds us to our commonalities. The ego is why the word stranger connotes danger—because the “other” isn’t like me, and is therefore wrong and frightening. And if that’s the case, why would anyone ever want to interact with a stranger?
I’ll let Mark Twain take over on this one.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” Twain wrote. “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
The failure to seek out the perspectives of others is nothing but arrogance. Interacting with strangers forces us to reach deeper within ourselves and find a different way to understand how the world works. Though we are a nation of immigrants, yet we are so easily moved to xenophobia and fear. It is far too easy to press that button and reactivate that primal fear of the other, to convince us once again that what is different is threatening and must be kept out. To once again make us see each other as strangers and treat each other with suspicion.
Now more than ever we must reach out to strangers. There is so much we can learn by listening. When I traveled, I was wrench out of my comfort zone and into the unknown, not knowing my trajectory or my destination, and like the ancient wanderers thousands of years before me, I learned, I discovered, I laughed with incredible people I would have never known had I not left my home to go find them. I want to push people to see the world in all it’s color.
The picture attached is of me with three individuals from three separate countries that all met within the last 24 hours. I explored Machu Picchu with them and they gave me stories and perspectives I might not have found on my own.
I believe I have been changed for the better and live life more compassionately. Now I want to share those stories with you. I hope you will join me on my journey.
Strangers Abroad will be launching next week and I couldn’t have done it without all the wonderful strangers I met along the way.