How Talking With Strangers Makes America Truly Safe
By Doug McGill
The McGill Report
Rochester, MN -- So now all
swarthy young men wearing turbans are the spitting image of
evil. This is as basic a problem as how white people look at blacks and
what they feel when they do.
Itís a question of how we relate to
strangers, to the exotic and vaguely threatening other.
We can make enemies of potential friends if we let our imaginations
run wild. "All strangers and beggars are from Zeus," Homer
said. In other words, the Gods appear among us mortals in disguise,
strangest-looking among us who bring the precious gift of wisdom.
Strangers are even Gods, possibly. It's a very consistent message in
the Jewish, Christian, Arab, and Buddhist wisdom literature: the stranger
the savior. The dusty, smelly, crippled, begging stranger bears celestial
In the Christian story, God came to earth as a scruffy prophet wandering
the desert. Arabs revere the principle of hospitality to strangers
meets in the desert, and Buddhists teach one route to enlightenment
is to regard every person one meets along life's journey as the Buddha.
"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have
entertained angels unawares," the writer of Hebrews advises.
Angels would be good to meet, but I find another Bible passage even
more helpful on the subject of strangers. King David cries out in Chronicles: "We
are aliens and strangers in Your sight, as were all our forefathers;
and our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope."
This makes it clear that our deepest fears originate not in strangers,
but within ourselves. What makes us quail is not Al Capone with a baseball
bat, or Bin Laden with an M-16. Itís the fear that our lives are without
meaning or hope. That we ourselves are strangers in the world and in
own homes, strangers to our own husbands and wives and children, and
strangers even to ourselves.
What would it be like to follow the instruction of the wisdom writings
and open the door to the stranger? There are two answers, one religious
The religious answer we've already covered: the stranger is God, and
the reward is everlasting life. For others, such as me, there are the
down-to-earth rewards of simple hospitality that Francis Bacon, in
his essay on Goodness, described: "If a man be gracious and courteous
to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world; and that his heart
island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins them. If
he easily pardons and remits offences, it shows that his mind is planted
above injuries, so that he cannot be shot."
By "easy pardons" Bacon is not suggesting we pardon mass
killers. Rather, he endorses the habit of forgiveness for the practical
By hospitality we befriend others before they become our enemies. Swarthy
or dusty or poor -- we must let them in. We may have qualms about inviting
strangers in for dinner, but we've got to risk it because the alternatives
are no good.
What do the Greeks, the Bible, Buddha, Francis Bacon, and common sense
teach on this topic?
That hospitality is a critical part of homeland security.
That learning from strangers makes us citizens of the world, lifts
us above anger and self-pity, and saves us from being shot.
Copyright @ 2002 The McGill Report