Strange suggests something is surprising or unsettling – difficult to understand. It also implies foreign or unusual. If appropriately used as an adjective, we are describing something as unfamiliar. However, we also use the term in derogatory ways. We call people strange when perhaps they are just strangers.
As a noun, there are at least three ways to view strangers. The first as a danger – we warn our children of stranger danger and to not go with someone they are not familiar. The second version of a stranger is a foreigner who is new to our parts. When people move to the U.S. from another country, they are newcomers – they are strangers. The last meaning is when we use ‘stranger’ to describe someone’s behavior. For instance, “She is no stranger to drama.” Meaning, she is darn accustomed to conflict.
The word itself can be used in multiple ways and various contexts and yet we have become somewhat homogeneous in our views and perspective of the ‘stranger.’ They are someone to be wary of, to avoid, to question, …to judge. We sometimes call the ‘other’ strange and then avoid.
I had a meeting with a client recently who shared with me that he was drawn back to the teachings of the Torah. These are the first five books of the Bible, also considered the Pentateuch. These early texts describe the origin of the Jewish peoplehood and their covenant with God. The Torah mentions at least 36 times how to treat strangers – the overriding lesson is to treat them with empathy.
You shall not wrong nor oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt (Exodus 22:20).
- Are we open to new people?
- What is at risk by showing empathy?
- What do we lose if we refuse to treat strangers with kindness?
- Where are we considered strangers?
There are cute and pithy statements about strangers all over the internet. Here are a few based on a quick Google search. The words seem accurate enough.
- Remember that every good friend was once a stranger
- A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face
- Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends
Words are beautiful, but it is our actions that determine our real feelings and intentions when it comes to strangers. Who gets our smiles? Who gets our eye-contact? Who receives the return phone call or email? How long do we treat people we do not know as foreign or dangerous before we shift into something friendlier? Ultimately, who gets our empathy?
As I write and post this blog, I am wrestling with these questions myself.
What about you?