I’m sure you are aware of the relationship between lack of experience and fear. How many times have you said to someone “I would never do that” after they have described an experience you felt was risky? But with more knowledge, encouragement or courage, you find yourself doing the very thing you previously feared.
If you haven’t tried anything new lately, I encourage you to think of something you’ve always wanted to do and go do it. We grow as a result of new experiences and meeting new people, especially people who are different from us. Some of my most memorable and gratifying experiences have been with people whose first language was not English. When I was a teenager, I remember thinking that people speaking a ‘foreign’ language within my hearing were rude or saying something derogatory about me or somebody I was with, when actually they were probably talking about what they were going to make for dinner. Wow, was I the center of my universe or what?
It’s fun to talk to strangers… certainly not scary. Some would even say it’s healthy and improves the quality of life of those involved. I listened to a TED talk with Kio Stark this week. She talks about how much she loves to talk to strangers and the expression of humanity it provides to herself and those she speaks to. I gave it a try 3 times this week and enjoyed each experience. It was a win.. Her “Why You Should Talk to Strangers” video is only 12 minutes and watching it will lift your spirits. (Take a look at my first blog post God’s Faithfulness Changed My Life to learn how God encouraged me to talk to strangers and how He used that conversation to change my life.)
In a Huffington Post article written by Emma Brancatisano, Jasmine Sliger, a cross-cultural counselling and organizational psychologist, said we should all be talking more.
“We don’t usually allow ourselves to be outside of our comfort zone. And [talking to a stranger] can be challenging, because we don’t know what is on the other side,” Sliger said. “It depends on your personality. Some have more of a natural sense of social engagement than others.”
“If you have a close friend who is more extroverted than you, go out with them and observe how they interact,” Sliger said. “Then, start by carrying out some social experiments. Begin talking to people or acknowledging them.”
“The best place to start is to show appreciation to those who are in your service. You’re acknowledging that they’re a human being and that you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Start there. Whether that be the guy who makes your soy latte in the morning or the friendly woman at your local deli, start simply. By doing this, you’re acknowledging that they’re a human being and that you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Start there,” Sliger said.
“I think we live in a world today where there is so much fear — whether that be of refugees or the person next to us…It even borders on paranoia. We are getting hampered more and more by messages of fear and this leads to people creating stereotypical fears. You can’t walk alone, you can’t let your children out of your sight and you need to talk to them about stranger danger. Whilst I believe you need to do these things, the message can be overplayed. And that is detrimental to the growth of a person.”
Fear – Nature and Nurture
Fear is a primal instinct. Our very early ancestors learned that if you are approached by a stranger, it is safer to consider them an enemy and be ready to fight or flight, rather than consider them a friend and be wrong…a potentially fatal mistake.
Layered on top of the primal instinct, a person may lack confidence They may have had a traumatic childhood experiences. They are likely to be influence by parents, teachers, family and friends, whose perspectives and ideas may not be helpful in developing a mentally healthy individual. This is how prejudice gets passed from generation to generation. And this concoction of fear and prejudice is stirred and agitated by exaggerated negative TV news.
You Decide What Your Fears Are
But being afraid of strangers does not have to be a life-long condition. Jack Schafer PhD explains “that the first step is understanding when and how the fear appeared. The second step is to acknowledge strangers” who have helped humanity, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. “The third, to face the fear and start interacting with strangers.” The more experience you have with different people, the less fearful you will be of their ‘stereotype’. And there are big differences between people within what you may consider a group or type of people. We use the most obvious characteristic to create our stereotypical groups, while the people we put in those groups are really so different. How similar are you to the people you know and would consider to be in your group? You will see differences in personality and values among them. And there are just as many personalities among every stereotypical group you can think of.
The Potential for Hate and Hate Crimes
Not all stereotypical fear of strangers (prejudice) is going to elevate to hate crimes, but we need to be aware of the potential. How many times have families ignored or rationalized a family member’s association with haters and people using violent rhetoric?
In Psychology Today, Dr. Schafer explains “Hate masks personal insecurities. Not all insecure people are haters, but all haters are insecure people. Hate elevates the hater above the hated. Haters cannot stop hating without exposing their personal insecurities. Haters can only stop hating when they face their insecurities”. So let’s do our best to accept and extend agape love to everyone. I, for one, do not want to be a contributing factor in the development of people becoming fuel for hate crime combustion.
Hate crime totals for the 10 largest cities [in the US] rose for four straight years to the highest level in a decade.
Nationally, levels in 2014 were the lowest since national reporting began in 1992, according to the FBI. Since then, hate crimes have steadily increased. In 2016, the last year with FBI totals available, hate crimes were up 11.7 percent compared to 2014.
We see three factors behind the moderate overall increases in 2016. First, there was a precipitous spike around the election. Second, on top of sustained levels of hate crimes against African-Americans, and a small increase against Jews, were larger percentage increases against other groups. Third, hate crimes increased by double-digit percentages in several large states, including New York, California, Florida and Illinois.
Are We Good Neighbors?
God doesn’t get into the psychology and statistics of it, but His wisdom tells us to be kind to strangers:
Exodus 22:21 Do not mistreat a stranger or oppress a foreigner for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Leviticus 19:34 But the stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.
Luke 10:25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
So who are your neighbors? Jesus is saying everyone is your neighbor, love your neighbor as yourself, do to others as you would want others to do to you.
Our Inner Being is God and God is Love, so we can’t help but love our fellow man / strangers / brothers. Their Inner Being also is God. John tells us in I John 4:20 “If a man says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. for if he doesn’t love his brother, who he can see, how can he love God , who he can’t see”.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says ‘What you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to me”. Joel S.Goldsmith, in his book Practicing the Presence, adds a karmic interpretation to these words. We are all One spirit of God. “God is the Selfhood of every individual…and the injustice that I am doing to another, I am doing to myself. The lack of thoughtfulness that I show to another, I am showing to myself.”
Unfortunately, not everyone has tapped into the their Inner Being of love. So we must learn to pray “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”. and pray that their eyes will be opened to the Truth.
If there are individuals with whom we are not on harmonious terms, we find, as we turn within [pray, meditate, listen to God] and pray that brotherly love and harmony be established between us, that instead of enemies, we come into a relationship of spiritual brotherhood with them. Our relationship with everyone then takes on a harmony and a heretofore unknown joy.
This is not possible as long as we feel antagonism toward anyone. If we are harboring within us personal animosity, or if we are indulging in national or religious hatred, prejudice or bigotry, our prayers are worthless. We must go to God with clean hand in order to pray, and to approach God with clean hands we must relinquish our animosities. Within ourselves we must first pray the prayer of forgiveness for those that have offended us, since ‘they know that what they do’.
It is not only inconsistent, but hypocritical to talk about the Christ and our great love of God in one breath and in the next breath, speak disparagingly of a neighbor who is of a different race, creed, nationality, political affiliation, or economic status. One cannot be the child of God as long as he persecutes or hates anyone or anything, but only as he lives in a consciousness of no judgement or condemnation.
Joel S Goldsmith, excerpt from Practicing the Presence
Many of our fears are irrational. But we can overcome our natural tendencies to fear strangers. When it comes to people, the more contact we have with a diverse population, the fewer fears and prejudice we will have. Our lives will also be much richer and interesting for the experience. Let’s appreciate the differences. You may be as different to them as they are to you. And your interaction could lead to greater acceptance and compassion for all parties involved. Each person is God’s unique creation and we don’t need to assigned to them some made-up group. Strike up a conversation with 3 strangers this week and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about it.
Although He doesn’t always give us explanations, God’s direction, as written in scripture and as written on your heart, will lead you to a more fulfilling and meaningful life. God is clear? Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself.