Friday, May 11, 2012

Equal Opportunity Greeter

My one-year-old does not discriminate based on gender, race, or appearances--no matter how outlandish a person looks. If someone smiles at him, he simply smiles in return.

During our daily walks around the neighborhood, Jordan leisurely sits in his stroller and basks in the outdoors. Upon seeing a dog or a duck, he squeals and kicks his legs. He enthusiastically lifts his arms and waves at the passerby. Usually, this seemingly innocent gesture is accompanied by a high-pitched: "Hiiiiiiiii!" Onlookers smile, some will even say hello in response to his effervescent greeting.

As we proceed further along on our walk, I note the vast differences between baby-brain and adult-brain. While I silently judge others based on appearances, my son is an equal opportunity greeter. At an early age, I was taught--actually drilled to no avail--to not talk to strangers. I infrequently smile at others I pass in public places and oftentimes even look away to avoid eye contact all together.  I will even look in the opposite direction if a stranger seems the least bit threatening. Some may call this behavior unfriendly. I call it being street smart.

I think most of us are inherently acculturated to stranger danger and mistrust the general public. As a society, we are plagued with daily reports of violence--kidnapping, robberies, and various brutalities. The world is not a safe place. From childhood, our parents have instilled the importance of trusting only family and close friends. We are ingrained to become cautious if a stranger suddenly imposes a false trust.

My cute, innocent son has yet to grasp this concept. Through his eyes, every stranger is a potential friend. And, very few strangers are immune to my son's charming demeanor. As he pleasantly smiles at pedestrians, everything is right with the world. He reins as the king of his domain as he continues to be pushed in his throne on wheels.  He is blissfully ignorant.

Sadly, soon I will have to begin the act of teaching my son the importance of exercising caution with strangers. My husband and I will be solely responsible for lifting his veil of ignorance and telling him that the world is really not a safe place. He will soon learn the societal art of discrimination, prejudice, and self-preservation.

My son has taught me yet another life lesson: The world would be such a happier place if we all greeted strangers walking past--scary-looking or not.  And until he learns about stranger danger, I can still enjoy watching as he ignites the faces of passerby.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry, Sam, but I really don't agree with this. I think its' very important that folks educate themselves on the realities of violent crime. All the data show that assault and violence by a stranger is very very rare. Almost all reported acts of violence, both physical & sexual are committed by someone that the victims knows and has some level of a relationship with. Stranger danger is the exception not the norm. I think the best we can teach our kids is to be as comfortable as possible to frankly communicate with their parents anytime they are in a situation that has made them feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable with someone they know, are acquainted with, and may very well trust. Unfortunately, there really isn't much we can do protect ourselves from random acts of violence. Not even locking yourself up in your home. They happen, they're horrible, they are incredibly tragic and unpredictable. Fortunately, they are very rare. I live in a neighborhood where folks say hi to each other, we have block parties, our kids play outside and go to the park together. We raise money for our neighbors who have been stricken with cancer, we have restaurants where you pay what you can afford and no one is turned away, we throw parades on the 4th of July and band together to raise money for schools. My life would be so less full and joyful without my dynamic & thriving 'hood. And for that to work we have to put faith in each other. I really believe that we should be opening our hearts and not living in fear.