They are everywhere.
At your door. In your school. They are at your work—passing you by in the hallways, streets, and supermarkets. You may even know their name.
Strangers really are everywhere. They are as far as the country that is furthest from where you are right now, in a context that is vastly different, to in your family as you sit next to the child or parent you haven’t taken the time to get to know. The stranger can be as foreign to you as a person that you never have and will never meet, or as intimate as a spouse that you have slowly lost connection to.
It is because strangers are everywhere that we must take our interaction with them so seriously. As the world’s communication significantly deteriorates into a dark abyss, it is more important than ever that we choose to see the stranger.Tweet
I recently have been listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Talk To Strangers (as I have noted in a previous post, it is an essential read). It has truly provoked the question, “How do you see the stranger?”
Due to my training in the Birkman Method (a personality assessment tool), I have come to realize that each and every one of us has a deficiency when interacting with others. We all have personalities, tendencies, and stress responses that determine how we see others.
I think this is why God, in the book of Leviticus, tells the people to love neighbours, take in wanderers, and treat the foreigner as a local. My favourite is in chapter 19.
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”Leviticus 19:33-34
We often say, “Treat your neighbour as yourself.”
I think this is the problem.
We look at others, near or far, and expect them to treat us the way we think we treat people (which isn’t how you think). We expect them to act the way our cultural conditioning has formed us. There’s the assumed reality that we think the same way, have similar cultural values, react the same way in stressful, fearful, sad, happy, joyful—whatever emotional situation you can think of—situation as we do. Then we treat our neighbours how we would want to be treated.
What we need to do is treat our neighbour the way they want to be treated. After all, we want to be treated the way…we want to be treated. It seems simple. However, it is a necessity we not only put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, shirt, pants, and coat but also in their time, country, family, situations. We cannot do this by assuming their position—assuming the most applicable stereotype.
There is a subtle reminder at the end of the commandeer of Leviticus 19. “Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” How do you want to be treated?
Do you want someone to listen to you? Someone to not assume they know you, but take the time? Maybe to see you as a person—wants, needs, desires, dreams?
We are all complex creatures. We are all creatures God loves and calls children. We thus should treat each other as though we are, and they are.
The reminder in Leviticus that the Hebrew people, too, were once foreigners is a reminder to all of us as we look to the stranger.
We have all been misunderstood. At times others have assumed things to be true about us based on our family, education, skin tone, religion, or nationality. At one time in the late 1500s, my ancestors were foreigners arriving in my country encountering strangers, my other ancestors who had been here for hundreds of years prior. It didn’t go well. There is baggage from these types of interactions that still looms in my country today.
The great news, it’s a new day. You are a new person. We can take the advice that God gave the Hebrew people nearly 6000 years ago. Today, let’s choose to see the stranger.
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