Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

The Taboo of Meeting Strangers – Alexandra Ehrhardt

With all of my gratitude resounding ever so greatly, I moved away from writing down my grateful things every day and feeling it. I remind myself of the things worth being grateful for every day – bad or good days. Today I dropped by the Center after a doctor’s appointment and there sat red beans and rice with some cornbread, waiting for me to gobble it up. I felt gratitude, I am still happy. I live in New Orleans; what’s not to be happy about?

Something did occur to me on one of my walks through downtown, along Poydras, and into the French Quarter. I find myself pondering similar thoughts throughout the year and during other daily activities. The question that runs through my mind runs the gamut of “Why am I hesitant to say even the slightest ‘Hello!’ to strangers?”

Photo Credit: Phil Roeder Image found courtesy of Creative Commons Search - a wonderful entity shared with the group by Ms. Liz Jurey

French Quarter & it’s strangers
Photo Credit: Phil Roeder
Image found courtesy of Creative Commons Search – a wonderful entity shared with the group by Ms. Liz Jurey

Now, there are plenty approaches to this question’s answer. There are psychological concepts like fear and safety concerns, and there are societal reasons. I believe my particular reason when encountering this fear is social one, something ingrained my cogs and gears rolling around in my head.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA there are plenty of times where talking to strangers is mandatory. At APEX Youth Center I am the Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator, and that gig is all about talking with strangers. Contrary to what I witness, I thrive off of the thrill of meeting new people. I never know what they are thinking, what they are experiencing when they first walk into APEX. In a more cliche phrasing: their presence emanates mystery and wonder – a different world is seen through their eyes than mine.

Who knows what lies behind them. Some people’s eyes reveal manifestos while other’s scream of pain. The stranger I passed before writing this blog post looked exhausted but enthusiastic about something that I may never know. Maybe I will meet them down the road in the future, but for the here and now I stand on the same sidewalk, unaware of what knowledge they hold. They might have insights of the world, or maybe they need a hand.

For once strangers, no longer. Friends made 'til the end of days.

For once strangers, no longer. Friends made ’til the end of days.

In AmeriCorps VISTA, I feel we are encouraged to perform acts of kindness towards strangers. This concept appears to be novel when really it was something practiced many decades before mine. I do not need to know someone very well before I feel comfortable to look them in the eye, but this is not universal. There are people that are afraid to outstretch their arm to hand a person in poverty a dollar bill. My mother would hold me to such standards sometimes. Does one fear something horrifying? Does one thing the homeless person on the side of the road will jump into their car? What is it?

I cannot claim these feelings to be universal. If anything, thank goodness that they are not. Take this example out of its context and apply it to a college campus. The person sitting alone eating a burrito may look lonely – they may not want someone talking to them at all – but how would one know unless you extended a friendly hand and asked? The person on their laptop with their headphones does not need an interruption, but this state of living hinders any welcome. I wish the social nature of human beings extended to grouping up with people one does not already know, especially to help her/him out if necessary.

This is not my argument of extroverts versus introverts. This is a request for people to think twice about ignoring the person on the same sidewalk as you who looks like they could use a friendly smile or a quick “Hello!” I feel like sometimes fighting poverty is as simple as extending a greeting to a stranger.

Until next time!

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This entry was posted on May 11, 2015 by in VISTA Field Reports.

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