Rethinking Stranger Danger

If any of you out there had a protective mother like I did, you were taught from a very early age not to talk to people you didn’t know.  Those people were called strangers and they were very, very bad.

As the only child of a single mother, I was well-versed in what to say when someone I didn’t know came up to me and said, “Come here, little girl” (NO!) or “I work with your mommy and she asked me to pick you up from school today” (What’s the password?).  We spent hours role-playing and I’m pretty sure that I would have passed any of those hidden camera investigations Dateline produces about stranger danger.

Case in point: a story from my childhood.  Granted, I should forewarn you that I don’t remember this at all, but the story has been told many times over the years and I can attest that, in all likelihood, it did happen as it’s written.

Around the age of four or five, I went to the bank with my mom.  She had finished up and we were heading toward the exit, a rambunctious me skipping a little ahead.  When I reached the door, an older woman politely held the door open for me and uttered those famous last words: “Come here, little girl.”

That was all it took.

I stopped dead in my tracks, looked up at her, and yelled, “NO!” just my mom and I had rehearsed dozens of times before.  I ran back to my mother and took her by the hand quite proud of the way I had handled the situation.  Afterall, she could have snatched me right then and there.

My mother, on the other hand, was horrified.  I guess her frequent warnings had stuck with me and now she was paying the humiliating price for it.

It was well into high school that I felt comfortable speaking with new people and that was mainly because I worked as a waitress and had to speak to them on a daily basis.  Despite the fact that most folks I know would classify me as a “people person,” I still have a hard time meeting others in a social setting.  Maybe deep down in my psyche, I’m still worried about being kidnapped.

I’m envious of guys like Hawkeye who, quite literally, makes friends wherever he goes.  Then again, maybe I could do the same.

In the last week, I have been contacted by several people I don’t know.  Strangers, if you will.  They have come in various forms: a bullied girl I once reached out to online, another who found my lack of inspiration inspirational, men seeking my affections in the world of online dating, and still others who I knew of, but did not know personally.  And I have learned something from these vastly different characters.  Each of them I might never met in “real life,” but if I hadn’t had the interactions I have had, my life would be missing something.

The thing is, even people you don’t know can have a positive impact on your life.  I am so glad to have shared even the briefest of sentences with these men and women.  I have been flattered, thanked, intrigued, encouraged, amused, and last but certainly not least, inspired.

You see, as I grew from a child into an adult, I learned that not all strangers are bad.  Some are welcome additions to our lives, while others are simply there to add a little color to our stories.  I once spent an unforgettable night exploring Las Vegas with an Irishman who stumbled into me at Planet Hollywood.  Would my life had been better if I had decided to walk away as he tried to converse with me?  I don’t know, but I do know I had an incredible evening seeing the Strip through the eyes of someone from another country.

While it may have once been pivotal to our safety, speaking to someone new does not necessarily mean you will be abducted from your parents and wind up a cautionary tale.  It can introduce you to wonderful experiences, ideas, and personalities that you may not have had the chance if someone didn’t make the first move to strike up a conversation.

Though I would hardly recommend throwing caution to the wind and encourage my readers to forget common sense and speak to everyone that comes their way, I would say that there is something amazing when strangers become friends.

After all, we were all strangers to each other once.