Walk at a brisk pace when you pass them, but remain calm. Do not look them in the eye, speak to them, ask them about their day or even be friendly to them in any type of way. In other words, never talk to strangers. That was the number one rule of childhood.
When I was younger, I was taught to not associate with “outsiders” for my own safety and protection. We were all taught the catchy phrase “stranger danger” and how to react to people we do not know.
As kids, we were trained to panic when a “stranger” came our way—this meant scream at the top of our lungs and run in the other direction. I mean, rightfully so, there are a lot of dangerous people in this world, but this has only strengthened the negative connotation of the word stranger.
A stranger is simply a newcomer or an unaccounted member to a group or population. Basically, someone you have not seen or talked to before. Usually, when people think of strangers, they think of dangerous, psychotic, lunatic people from the “Wrong Turn” series of films. The fear of the unknown has played a major role in our interpretation of strangers.
But as I grew older, I realized that this was not always the case. I discovered that maybe we should face our fears and make peace with our childhood enemy of the “scary outsiders,” because strangers could offer more positivity and knowledge than we may think.
When I started college, I was nervous about the people I would be interacting with. I then realized that some of my fear derived from the fact that everyone I would meet would be unfamiliar to me; everyone would be a stranger.
However, when I started to establish myself as part of the VWC community and got to know the faculty and students, they were no longer strangers, but acquaintances and friends. I have had my fair share of interactions with strangers throughout my life, in which a majority had positive influences.
When I volunteered for various organizations in middle school and high school, I met many different people from all over the world. I learned so much about cultures, traditions, faith, love, happiness and family from my experiences.
For example, I remember spending the summer of my senior year volunteering in the infusion center of Sentara Hospital. I was interested in the medical field, and thought that it would be fun to give back to the community.
One day, I was prepping an elderly woman for blood work, when all of the sudden she asked if she could speak with me. She told me that she loved seeing young people giving back to the community and that I truly made a difference by volunteering my time to help others. She also described that she was thankful for what I was doing for her.
This so-called stranger’s comments changed how I volunteered and inspired me to go into humanitarian work in college. From that day forward, I learned that strangers are one of life’s simple pleasures and can cause impacts that can last a lifetime.
Strangers could be the next innovators of our time, creating technology and doing research that could impact our well-being and future. Or maybe they will be the reason, like me, someone picks a certain path of interest or career—they might even inspire someone to do something they never thought of before We should welcome in the strangers and should not be afraid of the unknown, but instead we should embrace it.
Now, I am not saying to completely put your guard down and teach your children to walk up to every person they do not know and introduce themselves. However, when it comes to meeting new people, I feel that you should not be afraid to just say “hi,” and maybe get to know them a little more before passing judgment on them.
Because it is true what they say, “First time strangers; second time friends.” I truly believe that when you meet someone new, it is like an added blessing to your life.