Going through some of my older files, I found this document that I wrote a while ago. At the point I wrote it, it didn´t have a specific purpose, it was just for the sake of writing, because I was annoyed about this phenomenon. I decided to share it with you, because I thought it may be worth your time, and I am curious how you feel about this. Please, share your thoughts!
“Never go with strangers”
I will never teach this to my future children (provided I get any). I will teach them about being naïve. I will teach them about risks. I will teach them about the bad in the world. But above this all, I want to teach them the good in the world. I want to teach them the kindness humanity has. I want to teach them how to trust. I want to teach them how to ask for help. I want to teach them to love strangers. To do that, I first have to learn that myself.
What does ‘stranger’ mean?
As a child, stranger does not mean ‘anyone you do not know’, but rather ‘anyone your parents do not know’. After all, they may leave you with a babysitter or a family member, that you have never seen before. But what about when they are not there for you? When you are on the playground or somewhere else in town on a playdate?
Let me give you an example. When I was about 5 years old, I was waiting for my mum at a cross over (in a really calm neighborhood). An old lady told me it was safe to cross and after hesitating for a couple of minutes she convinced me to cross. My mum was angry at me, because she did not trust that lady and did not want me to make decisions in the traffic myself yet. A couple of years later my brother fell on his teeth on the way home, and crying and covered in blood another old lady offered us help and to bring us home. My mum was thankful. So what is it that should make me trust the one lady but not the other?
You get taught not to go with strangers, but it is really difficult to assess what this means. What makes someone a ‘stranger’? Age? Skin color? Gender? Growing older, watching the news more and learning about the world you learn to make this assessment. We learn about pedophiles, criminals, rapists and more. I have heard so often that it was unsafe for me in the dark, while all my male counterparts were allowed to go wherever whenever they wanted. My mum was also always taught me to be really careful with my bag wherever we went(probably why she never got anything stolen). And on the TV you constantly get to see how unsafe it is in countries basically anywhere outside of Europe.
So in my case, what does stranger mean? Male? Black? Latino? Anyone on busses, metros on the streets and in shops? Because they could just be potential rapists, criminals and thieves?
Why this sentence does more harm than good
Because in the end, it makes anyone a stranger, and a potential danger. There is not algorithm, or magic formula, that makes you able to decide who is trustworthy. Not all men are pedophiles or rapists. In fact, most of them are not! (Duh…) Neither is everyone on the metro out to steal your stuff, and is every non-European country dangerous.
However, believing in stranger-danger has consequences. I consider myself open-minded, culturally aware, optimistic and an bit of a adventurer. Yet, I also suffer under this dogma. Today I rejected a man in the supermarket who asked me to meet up some time. I rejected because something about his appearance scared me a little, and I am still not sure why. Because he was black? Because he was very tall? Because he was a bit older? My first boyfriend was taller than me, a little bit older, and I didn’t know him all that well before we went out. Most importantly, I had met him before, but it was a meeting in the supermarket that led us to going out.
I am a traveler, and every time I have to make decisions about whom to trust. Last week I went hitchhiking for a full weekend with a girl I in reality barely knew and had to fully trust as she speaks the language and I do not. Even hitchhiking, I get in the car with strangers all the time. Yet traveling in Africa I am always was double as careful and always checking my bags. I also would never give my phone number to anyone, while here in Europe I’ve never found that a problem.
What is my point? I get paranoia. Stranger means outsider, different, colored, male and stronger than me. The world arounds us teaches us from a very young age not to trust outsiders. And frankly I came to believe that is the very reason we can be so xenophobic, we can be racist, we can engage in wars. We have become very good at creating ‘us vs. them’ narratives.
Why are we taught not to go with strangers in the first place?
Especially when it comes to children, we want to prevent them from being harmed. Children are easy to trust others and do not know yet the dangers of the world. It makes sense that you want to make an easy rule that they can live by to at least avoid the biggest risks. But honestly, I think that teaching children ‘do not trust strangers’, is not helping at all. If someone truly wants to harm your child, there are ways to do it (sadly). I am not a parent yet, so I cannot comment on good parenting. But I hope that if I will become one, they will feel safe with me. How? Time will tell, but I would rather focus on teaching them the behavioral signs to look out for when someone cannot be trusted, than make them fear people with certain appearances, or strangers in general. Most of all, I want them to know they can ask me anything, so that together we can learn the best way how to love strangers, but to avoid actual risks.
Why do we need to love strangers?
I believe that as humans we need each other. We need connections, we need to be seen. We need to be able to ask for help when we are in trouble, even if we are half way across the world. We miss out on so many good and beautiful things by distrusting each other and reserving ourselves only for our self.
We chant about equality, but in order for that concept to work, for ‘black lives matter’ to work, for reintegration programs for homeless people to work, for the refugee crisis to be solved, for people with disabilities to find jobs more easily, for anything really, we need to love and trust each other, even if we may not know each other. Even your best friends were once strangers, so we have to get over the anxiety and be bold. We have to take this scary jump into the world, not knowing what may happen, trusting the possibility for amazing things to happen. That is why we need to love strangers.