Monday, December 20, 2010

Stranger and/or Friend

Stranger- an individual that one is not acquainted with.


The word poses a little linguistic intrigue. The term implies something of which we are often guilty - assuming there is something strange about strangers. It’s a habit for which, ruefully, I am reprehensible. It is so easy to assume things about another’s character; to judge people without knowing them, to stereotype, categorise, label, and all those horrible and unfortunate human tendencies. Occasionally I catch myself being a snob- a snobby Wellingtonian, a snobby Nga Tawa girl,... Eugh. And believe me, I hate myself in those moments. Snobbery is a characteristic that, in my opinion, is unrivalled in its unattractiveness. There is nothing that can tarnish a beautiful face more than a curled upper lip, but there is nothing that can obscure and spoil one’s view of the world more than looking at it down one’s nose. Things work both ways I suppose.

There is infinite value in being nice to people. Infinite goodness taking just a second of your time to look up and thank the person at the counter who’s just served their one hundred and sixty first irritable Christmas shopper of the day. I believe that above academic achievement, good looks, or style there is nothing that provides a greater insight into a person’s true character than the way they treat others. Your soul is exposed in the way you address the person behind the counter at McDonalds, or your response when approached by the poor, clipboard bearing Greenpeace staff given their unenviable job of converting the pinstriped swaths of impatient and unsympathetic Lambton Quay businessmen. Tragically, and yet somewhat magically, it is those with the least to give that are the most generous. It is the families who struggle to buy their children a pair of school shoes who will gladly drop an extra dollar into the donation box, while the rich brush hastily past outstretched collectors’ buckets as though bright coloured t-shirts and charitable causes pose some intolerable interjection into their  hurried professional lives, and the primacy of an office timetable.  Sometimes I see these people and wonder how they can genuinely be so unhappy with the world.

I think that the faces of strangers, whether they be at shop counters, behind bars, or simply walking down the street, are like mirrors. How we treat them reflects, not only on how we are are treated in return, but subsequently on our own demeanours, or dispositions, our very own satisfaction with life.

So have a bit of time for others. It is often not that we mean to be rude or demeaning, but we occasionally all get caught up in the hectic self-important, riotous chaos that is our day to day lives and forget to spare a smile for others, especially as we get older. And I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

 I guess it is easier to live by ideals when you’re young. To follow our passions, ideologies and beliefs, whether they be socialism or environmentalism, before our optimistic balloon string is dragged down by the leaden weight of responsibility in a profit orientated world. But, as an optimist, or maybe as a naive and idealistic youth, I believe that there is still more to life than the nine to five rat race. That, even if it is only in the very smallest of things- in opening a door for a parent struggling with a pram, or in helping a little old lady with her shopping bags- there is great potential for goodness in the human race, no matter how shallow or materialistic we may become. The shape of society is dictated entirely by how we see it, and I firmly believe that it can be a positive and beautiful place. Indeed, we do not know anything about the lives and circumstances of strangers but that is all the more reason to do good to them- we never know how much a small smile might mean. A smile is the easiest thing to give, but it is also the most powerful, the most appreciated and the most gracious. Sometimes a smile may not come easily, we may be tired, or grumpy or simply want to be left alone, but it's worth the effort. It’s Christmas, for fuck’s sake. And, after all, perhaps strangers are not strange, but friends we are yet to meet.

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