Fear of the Stranger

“Just as the human need for hospitality is a constant, so, it seems, is human fear of the stranger” Ana Maria Pineda

I was taking a walk to the local market the other day when I crossed paths with a middle aged woman carrying groceries back from the store. I did not know her but, people person that I am, I wished her a cheery good morning. She never looked up and passed me by neither answering my greeting nor, in any way, acknowledging that she and I were on the same planet together, not to mention the same neighborhood. Apparently, in her eyes I was a stranger, someone to be feared or at least not trusted.

In this particular case, the woman might have been deaf or her mind was elsewhere but I have had similar experiences before and, in talking to friends, they too have been given the silent treatment by perfect strangers. What’s going on? Have we become so fearful of other people that we are afraid to say hello?

Is it ironic or what that in a culture eager to share our intimate secrets on facebook and other social media outlets, we are becoming less and less willing to talk to one another directly? Good grief, we are even afraid to shake hands with one another without subjecting ourselves to some kind of anti-contaminant. We are becoming a “no touch, don’t talk to strangers society.”

Author Ana Maria Pineda suggests, that our traditional openness to people and new ideas is being smothered by fear of the stranger. Insulated and isolated by our self constructed silos we are building a fence around ourselves keeping the immigrants, people of color and others who are perceived as somehow different than ourselves at bay.

C’mon folks, our world, as you may have observed, is far from perfect but most people are not ogres ready to pounce on others. Honest. Your neighbor is not your enemy but a friend who wants to live in the same kind of peace and harmony you want for yourself. People who speak a different language or have a different color skin are not aliens from space but fellow human beings.

Nah! We don’t need to have love-ins on every block but it might help to recall to mind one of Maya Angelou’s signature quotes, “ We are more alike than unalike.” Not a bad thing to keep in mind next time some “stranger” wishes you good morning.


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