Column: The danger in seeing strangers everywhere

Should we all really be so afraid of each other, that we completely limit speaking unless necessary?

It was a blistering hot summer day at Cultus, in the Entrance Bay parking lot, and the kids were dying to get into the water.

But when we were getting out of our car, someone else was getting out of their car beside us. So, we did something that people just don’t do anymore.

We talked to them.

This was several years ago, so I’d assume we talked about the weather, the traffic, the business of the parking lot, or some other benign topic. The eye rolls from our kids were dramatic to say the least, and then they chided us.

“Those were strangers,” they said, embarrased and grumping all the way to the beach.

“Well they were,” we would have said. “But now we’ve talked to them, so they’re not.”

Fast forward to earlier this year. I was pushing my cart through a congested grocery store, and finding places to move the cart around each aisle was becoming so frustrating it was comical.

The third time I ended up in a shopping cart tango, I finally broke out laughing. The other woman stopped, smiled genuinely, and said “Oh it’s so nice to see you smile. You’re the first person who has smiled at me all day.”

It was nearing 6 p.m., and she was seeing the first smile of her day. Her reaction to something so simple, so human, as a smile was astounding to me, and my kids.

That encounter led to many discussions around our dinner table. We’ve talked about how important it is to be nice to strangers. We’ve chatted about how a smile is the easiest thing you can give a person, and that you in fact may be changing their outlook on life for a moment, a day, a week.

Positive human interaction is one of the cornerstones of a full-functioning society. After all, what do we have if we don’t have each other?

Should we all really be so afraid of each other, that we completely limit speaking unless necessary?

As you may have guessed by now, I have mixed views on the topic of stranger danger. Yes, it’s very pragmatic advice for a young child, I agree. I myself avoided abduction at about age 10, when a man offered to take me from one bus stop to the next. I trusted my gut, saw something sinister in his plain car and suburban-looking outfit, and pointed into the distance.

“My mom is coming,” I told him.

Of course, she wasn’t there, but he left so quickly he didn’t have time to check.

So, when my kids were younger, I talked about the importance of not going anywhere with strangers. But I’ve also taught them to speak to people, to speak up for themselves, and to learn to trust their guts.

And we’ve talked about the truth: A stranger is just someone you haven’t yet met.

I’m generally a pretty shy person, but as a reporter I speak to strangers all day long. I call them in their living rooms when they’re least expecting me. I tap them on the shoulder at events. I open up conversations on social media, inviting people to talk to me. I knock on doors and walk into places where I have no idea what to expect. I ask them questions and I listen to their answers and we find common ground.

And I’m still here. I have survived virtually thousands of encounters with strangers, most of whom were generally enjoyable and had wonderful things to teach me. In fact, I would not be who I am today without these strangers and their stories.

Over the course of time, my kids have accompanied me to numerous work events, from on the spot news coverage where houses are exploding in fire, to planned ribbon cuttings with elected officials. I have taught them how to open a conversation with a stranger, how to interact with strangers, and even how to trust their own intuition on who is a credible, safe person.

They trust their intuition.

They speak to strangers.

They’re still here.

Finally, here’s a scenario that played out very recently.

My eldest son, now 17, was waiting for his bus at the depot to get out of the town for the weekend. He crosses paths with a man who many would dismiss. First, because that’s what society does to everyone these days, but secondly, because the man has been affected by a brain injury and operates on a different playing field.

But my son naturally paid attention to him. He heard his story, learned he was homeless, learned he was traveling to see his mom for her birthday. The man then offered to buy my son a coffee. Instead, my son gave him a bottle of pop.

“I couldn’t take his money,” he told me later.

Later on, my son also gave him half his lunch. He smiled, he listened. And my son laughed with him and called him by his name, as if they were the best of friends.

Not strangers.

Not at all.

Watching all of this, I realized that while I may not have done everything right as a parent, and while I would love the chance to erase my mistakes, I have raised a human being with a fully functioning heart.

“Stranger danger” may have come in handy at some point in my childrens’ lives. But opening their heart to the people around them will serve them for the remaining 80 years or so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sheriff Avory Chapman was last seen Jan. 20 on Wellington Avenue in Chilliwack. (RCMP)
RCMP look for missing man last seen in downtown Chilliwack

21-year-old Sheriff Avory Chapman has been missing since Jan. 20

A worker is seen throwing a chicken in an undercover video in 2017 filmed by California-based animal rights activists Mercy For Animals.
Fraser Valley chicken abuse trial delayed until February

Originally scheduled for a jury trial, Sofina and Chilliwack company now face judge alone

Chilliwack Law Courts. (Black Press file)
Man sentenced to 20 months for sexual interference in Mission

Will Laws Clark was 22 and victim was 13 at time offences began

Recently elected NDP MLA Kelli Paddon is funding three $500 scholarships for students demonstrating a commitment to equity and social change. (Black Press file photo)
Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon funding Equity and Social Change Scholarships

One of the scholarships is open to any graduating student in the Chilliwack-Kent electoral district

Richard Procee is one of four candidates in the Feb. 13, 2021 Chilliwack school board byelection. Here, he poses at his store in 2017. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
VIDEO: Byelection candidate Richard Procee hopes to ‘introduce good conversation’ to Chilliwack school board

Procee discusses his involvement with his church, views on SOGI 123 and politics

Rose Sawka, 91, waves to her son through the window of a care home in Prince Rupert in October. Residents of the care home received their first vaccine dose Jan. 20. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
B.C. care home visitor access to expand by March, Dix says

Staff, residents, essential visitors top priorities for vaccine

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) is looking into the death of man discovered Jan. 11 in east Maple Ridge. (Black Press files)
B.C.’s police watchdog investigating man’s death in Maple Ridge

Man was found dead Jan. 11 after recent contact with police

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

Most Read