Friday, June 28, 2013

Please talk to strangers

One of the most tragic things we teach our children is “don’t talk to strangers." This sound byte phrase has produced generations of socially anxious and fearful children and adults that don’t know how to relate to other people. We are taught to fear and avoid anyone outside of our family circle. It is repeated to us so much as children that when we are faced with strangers as adults, there is still that initial gut reaction to keep silent and run away to save ourselves.

Teaching our children to not talk to strangers is not only detrimental to their developmental well being, but their relational skills and the idea of community. No wonder it feels forced when we try to create community. We have killed our communities by instilling this false sense of security in ourselves.

Our only hope for connection, and to save modern humans from complete interpersonal alienation, is to teach the next generation that it’s okay to talk to strangers. It’s okay to say hello to your neighbors, the store clerk, the woman sitting beside you on the bus, the taxi driver. It is okay to ask them ‘how are you doing?’ and mean it more than as another form of ‘hello’. It’s okay to answer someone’s ‘how are you doing’ with a ‘I’m great today, how are you?’ or ‘I’m not doing so hot but I’m still here. How are you?’ They may look at you a little strange at first, but if enough people can relearn that strangers are okay, that they are just like yourself… well then we might even save ourselves.

M Osborn is a radical mental health activist, artist, and writer located in Richmond, VA. Founder of Dispatches From the Mad Parenthood Front, Mindful Liberation Project, FOIA For Change, the RVA Peer Support Line, and /r/radicalmentalhealth, and co-founder of RVA Peer Support and Something Something PressAuthor of Coping Skills and Trigger Warning, and co-author of Mindful Occupation: Rising Up Without Burning OutM also helps moderate several mental health-related blogs, including Life After Eating Disorders, A Space of Safety, and Your Mental Health First Aid KitThey can usually be found musing about the world at their personal blog and filling spaces with artand can be contacted at megan[at]mindfulliberation[dot]org

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