Nearly every time I check my email, it seems there are at least two or three new messages waiting, forwards from friends and family. Many of them have subject lines like, “Advice for All You Women Out There!” and “Read This, It Could Save Your Life!” And I roll my eyes and skim them dutifully just in case it comes up in conversation.
I am the constant recipient of advice that suggests that I refrain from boiling tea water in the microwave because it may explode in my face and leave me with burn scars. I am reminded that car-jackers will place papers in my rear window to lure me out of the car, and that viruses threatening to erase everything on my hard drive will come as attachments from people I think I know. Don’t pull over to help someone on the side of the road because when you get out, they will get in and drive away with your car; don’t refill your water bottles because the chemicals in the plastic could cause cancer. Nearly every day, I am given another reason to be afraid of people, places, and even some of my own habits.
As a child, my mother tells me, I was very outgoing and went out of my way to become friends with nearly everyone I met. I talked to old ladies at the beach, made friends on vacation, and struck up conversation with the person next to us on the airplane. I made sure that people knew me, and that people liked me. Now those days are gone, and that willingness to get to know people is nearly all gone, and it seems I am not the only one who feels that way.
Every time I step outside, I see hundreds of strangers walking down the street talking on the phone to people that they already know. Headphones and newspapers send out the message to other passengers on the El: ‘Don’t talk to me’. I admit I am guilty of this too, but I do wonder, why are we like this? Are people really as scary as I am told to believe? Or are they just as wary of me as I am of them?
I wonder, did my reluctance to talk to strangers begin when I was young and holding my mother’s hand at the mall as she warned me of kidnappers who would change my appearance so that I could never be found? Or is it reinforced when I check my email in the morning, and come face to face with the smiling eyes of children who once were (Please forward this to everyone you know)?
I want to know: where are the chain mail letters about the people like the ones who stop me on the street to tell me I dropped my glove? Why do I never hear stories about strangers being helpful, of neighbors being more than just the people who live next door? How can we call ourselves a society when everyone avoids interaction?
Its time to stop worrying about what everyone else is up to, because chances are, that person who may seem a little weird is not going put the effort into making up an elaborate plan of attack. While awareness and understanding of potential dangers is of course important, it should not be to such a degree that awareness becomes paranoia becomes isolation. I want to check my email without being terrorized. I want to be able to walk home at night without constantly looking over my shoulder at the person behind me (I’m sure he would appreciate it, too).
Well, I will do it. I am going to take off my headphones. I am going to put away my book. I am going to step out into the world and not worry about who is lurking around the corner. I will discover life by living it, I will learn about people by meeting them, I will know the consequences when they happen; it is the only way to know for sure, this I do believe.
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