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Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Myth of Stranger Danger

Don’t talk to strangers.  Every young child has been taught this.

Don’t take advice from strangers.  Pinocchio learned this lesson the hard way.

There is safety within your circle of friends.

These maxims are lies.

Despite our determination to teach children the perils of Stranger Danger, we adults throw caution to the wind along with the above guidelines.

The easiest way for an adult to share what is on his or her mind is with a stranger.  When something is really troubling us, we seek out someone who knows nothing about us.  We go to a therapist, a psychologist—some sort of professional counselor.  We do not go to a close friend.  Sharing your intimate secrets with a close friend only opens the possibility of losing that friend.  We have nothing to lose from an encounter with a stranger.  You can tell a therapist anything and walk away.  There is nothing invested there to lose.  It is what drives this multi-million dollar industry.  Talking with a stranger is simply easier.

Taking advice from them is easier as well.  Instead of listening to family members, who know us intimately, and have an intimate perspective on our lives, we would rather take the advice of strangers, who don’t really know us at all.  We can claim the expert knowledge of the professional as if it were some sort of prescription.  If it works, we’re happy.  If it proves to be useless, we can blame the professionals.  Yet again, there is safety in the advice of strangers.

We’ll even turn to the advice of non-professionals, such as celebrities, talk-show hosts, and bloggers for tips and tricks to get through this thing we call life.  This is even safer than using a professional.  We don’t have to share our personal details with these sources.  And since we don’t have to look any of them in the eye we don’t have to take their advice if we don’t like it.  We can freely graze from any and all sources out there and nibble at, ignore, and devour whatever we come across.

But we don’t just fear sharing our intimacies with our friends.  After all, this would suggest that our friends are shallow, disloyal, and completely lacking in empathy.  There may be some of us out there who believe this of our friends.  (Which would lead to the question: why would such people be considered friends?)  But there is something else at work here.  A truth that we don’t like to face.

The more we know a person, the more we know about that person.  And as much as we deny it, we are judgmental little nitwits, and the thought of going to our friends for help is sometimes just an impossible idea.  “Ask him?  The guy who can’t straighten out his own life?”  “Her?  She doesn’t know me!”  (This last one is especially hard for us to swallow.  We just don’t want to acknowledge that someone has our number.  That someone can see us for what we really are.  And if they can, they had better never say a word of it aloud!)

All of which leads us back to strangers.  We don’t see them as dangerous; friends are dangerous, strangers are the safe bet.  And despite the warnings, we are easily led astray by people we don’t know.  Even worse, we ignore the friends who could lead us back on the right path.

Of course, the real trick here is to trust your friends.  But that's often harder than trusting a stranger.

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