Last spring my husband and I were walking the trail in a nearby park, enjoying the flitter of birds and the bursts of green from the new growth. A young boy, about four or so, was approaching us, walking a few yards ahead of his mother. Always trying to be friendly, I said hello as he came near. Immediately he stiffened up, loudly whispered "Stranger danger!" to himself and hurried by us. At the time, we smiled at his response, but the more I thought about it, the sadder I felt that this young man had so been immersed in the culture of strangers as "others" to be feared and avoided.
Though we may pay lip service to the "A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet" adage, what we usually mean is more like "You're either with us or against us," and the means we use to decide who goes in the latter column are rarely logical, meaningful or accurate. We're dividing everyone into "us" and "them" all the time, whether consciously or not, and it's a big part of what allows us to cause or condone violence and suffering and destruction to those around us. This "other"ing can be especially frustrating to those of us who see the interconnectedness of everything and work to create a just, compassionate world for all where "other" becomes blurred.
I was pleased, then, to recently come across a photo project by Richard Rinaldi called Touching Strangers. Rinaldi describes the project in this way:
"I meet two or more people on the street who are strangers to each other, and to me. I ask them if they will pose for a photograph together with the stipulation that they must touch each other in some manner." As Rinaldi says, his project "encourages viewers to think about how we relate physically to one another, and to entertain the possibility that there is unlimited potential for new relationships with almost everybody passing by."
It's interesting to look at the images and notice the body language -- the leaning toward or away, the placement of hands, the facial expressions, the awkward stances, the occasional playfulness. But more powerful and poignant is just looking. Seeing the humanity. The lack of "other"ness. The potential for really embracing strangers as friends and working together to build a world that honors and loves us all and that has little room for boys in parks to worry about "stranger danger."
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