See The Stranger

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.

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.

BUT NO!

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.

Check out the resources used for this post

How to deal with that jerk in line!

Coupling.

Have you heard the term? The word has a lot of applications, but I am speaking about the coupling of experiences. I first heard it used this way while listening to the audiobook, Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (maybe the most important book to come out in 2019).

The premise of Gladwell’s use of coupling dealt with how specific circumstances provide an opportunity for people’s actions. Though Gladwell is specifically speaking of suicide and how, say the Goldengate bridge doesn’t have a safety net to prevent people from killing themselves, provides an opportunity for people to jump when they may not have. Gladwell, of course, goes into more detail and addresses the topic to a deeper degree.

It made me think about what other situations have a coupling experience. I thought of the impatient person in a Walmart line or someone difficult at the customer service counter. Of course, there can be an infinite amount of scenarios. Could the aggravated, edgy, rude person be having a coupling experience? To be honest I am very judgemental toward people like that…but then I remember…

Though I work really hard to be super patient, gracious and kind to cashiers, customer service reps, and the like, there was one particular day I wasn’t…

My printer had been acting up so I took it into Staples where I had bought it 13 months earlier. When I told them it was broken they informed me that the warranty was only for 12 months. I sternly informed them I won’t be buying another printer from them again, dropped the printer on the desk and walked out. It was not my proudest moment.

Say I were observing someone else have this same interaction I would think, “What a jerk”. I would apologize to the customer service rep on behalf of the rude customer and cast judgement on the former. Instead of grace, what God has called me to express in all situations, I would offer condemnation. The thing is, this story is about me. I give myself grace because I know what was going on in my life. In fact, if it were not for the coupling of events in my life—a perfect storm if you will—I certainly wouldn’t have left my broken printer (with a thud) at Staples. I still would never buy a printer from them again, they just wouldn’t know why.

I can extend myself grace because I had shingles at the time, the church was going through a very hard season which caused me a lot of hurt, and I didn’t have the money for a new printer. Physical, emotional, and financial pain brewed together to make a bitter tea of discontent that anyone could have upset (although 12 months for a printer…really!).

I can extend grace to myself because I know the whole coupling story of my own life. I know what was going on inside me and all around me. We don’t, however, know what is going on with everyone else. Yes, there are some people who are entitled, angry, cotton-headed ninny muggins. Call me naive, but I don’t think everyone is like that. I do believe that life’s woes can have a coupling effect on people and bystanders end up carrying the brunt.

Instead of assuming the worst of others we need to try and deescalate, seek understanding, and be patient even in the midst of their impatience. I guess this could be part of loving our enemies and why it so important to treat people as we would want to be treated. It isn’t just about us not acting crazy. Sometimes it’s about not responding to other peoples’ craziness. Want to know how to deal with that jerk in line? Love, grace, and patience.