When a friend of mine was in high school, she took some summer courses in Boston in preparation for college. She had a penpal in Amherst working on his medical coding certification who had agreed to meet her one sunny day, and was taking a Greyhound bus to a large terminal in Boston. She looked up the address of the terminal, and sped off to meet her friend.
A Wrong Turn?
However, when she got off the bus, something felt wrong. The part of town she arrived at felt less like a transportation hub than it did a “hood,” and indeed, when she arrived at the address, she found an abandoned furniture factory, with no Greyhound buses to be seen. She circled around the neighborhood several times to make sure she wasn’t a block off, but it turned out that both the bus depot and this abandoned factory had the very same address.
During these wanderings, three older African-American men had begun to follow her. She was white, from a small, predominantly white town, young and pretty- and very much lost and alone.
She heard them muttering things she assumed were full of bad intentions and was about to panic, but instead she took a deep breath, turned around, and smiled at the three men, opening her arms wide.
“I’m sorry, I’m lost.” She said. “Do you know where the bus depot is?”
Presumably these men were used to being treated as though they were criminals, but when my friend approached them as fellow human beings their tone shifted almost immediately. One of the men, who had a large scar that ran from above his left eye across his nose and down to his neck, was so impressed by my friend that he escorted her all the way across town to the depot, even paying for her subway ticket to get there. Her friend’s bus was late, so she managed to meet him right on time, and they had a great day together.
Diamonds in the Rough
This story could have had a much less happy ending, but as it was it taught my friend a lesson she will remember her entire life: always remember that other people are also people, just like you and me.
It is tempting, if not simply human nature, to categorize people on sight as being different or even as possible sources of harm. We avoid them, fear them, and teach our children to do the same. We misinterpret their behavior as being driven by unreasonable perceptions, if any reason at all, and actively find reasons to separate ourselves from them and what they do.
However, more often than not, the same people we avoid can be great sources of insight, and we can learn the most unexpected joys from strangers, even if the package that joy comes in seems damaged or malicious at first. He or she could be just as kind and wise as your best friend, and indeed, they could even become your best friend if you took the chance to know them.
Smiling at Our Own Strangers
It can be said that the assumptions we make about strangers, we also make about ourselves. We look inward and divide ourselves up, saying that one part is better than another. We distance ourselves from our bad parts, refusing to accept them as part of the whole that makes up who we are.
Yet our flaws, like strangers, contain extraordinary chances for redemption and wisdom. Here are some ways to smile at your personal strangers.
- We often judge unfairly, and expect more of ourselves than we can reasonably give. The next time you’re giving yourself a hard time, take a step back and pretend you’re someone else. Don’t just assume you know how other people saw you, but really look at yourself and see it from another perspective. You will find that more often than not, you’ve done nothing wrong.
- When you find yourself regretting something you’ve done, examine closely the reasons why you chose to act that way. Don’t write it off with excuses like “I was just being stupid.” Try to understand the root of your actions, and accept them unto yourself.
- Last but not least, don’t forget to treat yourself! Calling what you love a guilty pleasure does no good to anyone, especially you. Moderation is key, but you should never regret what makes you happy. See if you can’t integrate it into your life in a productive manner.
Facing that which is unappealing with a smile and open arms can bring us to a whole new realm of acceptance and forgiveness. When we appreciate others as well as ourselves, a whole world of possibilities opens up, and we don’t want to miss that bus. What does the stranger in yourself look like, and how would you approach them?
Patricia Walling is a web content designer for several health care related sites, including Medical Billing and Coding. She self-identifies as a perpetual student of medicine, and can be found most of the time researching anything related to the field. She lives in Washington, and as a result of the long winter there is itching for the sun to return so she can run outside and play!