In Defense of Talking to Strangers

Over the years, I have had a fair share of well-meaning professors and coworkers suggest I don’t talk to certain people or venture certain places. The advice is kindly given, and, though it may seem like I don’t, I truly do heed some of it. Yet, most of the, again, well-meaning, folks don’t understand my life is quite different from their lives.


Pardon the generalization, but many sightedfolk travel seamlessly from home to work to store. They go when they want, and they pick their route. They can travel with windows shut and doors locked.


I don’t have the “luxury” of shutting out the world.


I leave when the bus leaves, following the transit authority’s route, not my own route. Over the course of a year, I spend hours at bus stops and walk hundreds of miles. I am in contact with hundreds of people, many of whom I ordinarily would not seek out.


Unlike most sightedfolk, I am a walking human interest. Half of the people I meet are amazed a blindfolk is functioning. The other half pities me and is sorry a blindfolk doesn’t get limo service to the grocery store. People are intrigued. Many folks want to ask questions, many want to help. Does everybody have good intentions? No, of course not. I know that. Even though I try to come across as friendly, I am not foolish.


The thing is, while sightedfolk might feel safer blocking out the world, I am convinced I am far safer networking as much as possible. The more people who know me, the more people I have forged some weird form of relationship with, the better off I am in case of trouble.


How often has the bystander effect crippled you? We are apathetic and scared to get involved in other people’s issues. Instead, we hope somebody else lends a hand while we maintain our safe distance. I do not use “we” lightly, as I know I am not immune.


If I am walking by so many folks each day, why not build rapport? What might seem like me being too trusting is quite honestly me doing my best to ensure should I need help, I have folks not standing by, but actively getting involved.


So, when you tell me not to talk to certain people, I will try not to be defensive. Frankly, I inwardly sigh.


Here is what I wish I could explain to you. Yes, some, maybe most, of my strangerfriends are shady characters. It is true that sometimes I wish I could walk from Dunkin to my office without some random person asking me, for the third time that day, how I lost my sight. There are other times, though, when I am grateful the homeless man you wrote off accompanies me across a busy street, or the drug dealer who intimidates you sticks around my bus stop to chat with me to ensure a drunk guy doesn’t invade my personal space.


I have come to realize distrust runs both ways. When in D.C., a man sold Street Sense newspapers near my metro stop. Each morning, he greeted me with a lively, “Mornin, Sis”, and he would guide me through the throngs of people to the escalator. One morning, a white, female professional saw this black, ex-homeless male walking with me to the escalator. Seemingly not trusting him, she also guided me, and the result was me walking between two well-meaning folks who had approximately zero confidence the other guide was useful. (We all made it. I said thank you to both. I needed help from neither. Walk left, stand right, carry on.)


When you suggest I don’t talk to strangers, you are asking me to live and interact as you would, judging people on looks and behaviors you see, often from the safe distance of your personal vehicle. I can’t, and won’t, live like that. I can’t avoid people, shady and non-shady alike. Even if I could, I have found the value and the humanity in many of the folks you distrust. Thank you for your concern, but give me some credit. I know you are trying to be caring. Yet, the result is belittling, as if you don’t think I know crime happens. Your safety precautions simply do not apply to the way I travel.


So, I will continue thanking sightedfolk for their genuine concerns, as I continue establishing my community, trying to keep myself safe the best way I know.


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