Humans tend to exploit others, to see how to get more from others even if it is at the latter’s expense. We are never satisfied with what we have, so we want more and more … and more. And to have more, we grab, we take. And to take as much as we want, we also revert to force. So we end up creating a situation where we need to be afraid from other humans, because the moment they act out of their greed, they become a danger to others.
As a result we protect ourselves in advance. In cities we are careful not to go out at night alone. In the countryside we are permitted to have our own means of self-defence. What happens on an individual level also takes on a group dimension, ranging from the local parish or sports group, to countries and continents.
Thus, contrary to what happens when we encounter a cuddly animal (which can still bite us after all!), our first unconscious attitude towards a stranger is fueled by the fear mentioned above; and we become immediately suspicious. Is this person safe? Will they hurt me? Are they trying to deceive me with that smile? What do they want from me? Will they try to take something from me? And so we do not engage in real face-to-face contact; we do not smile at them as we would at the cuddly animal. We don’t really look at the other: we just see them, and we move on. We create an enemy by default, unless they prove themselves otherwise.
So if we encounter a hitchhiker, the automatic reaction is to continue driving. If there is a person in need on the side of the road, or on the pavement, we press our accelerator pedal or quicken our pace. After all people have pretended they needed help only to then harm those who stop to help them.
But in order not to act stupidly and allow others to exploit you, the answer does not lie in being automatically suspicious. It is not safe to walk aimlessly with a thick wallet in your hand and an expensive mobile in the other through a gang in an isolated place during the night. That is stupidity. But automatically shutting off the possibility of proximity with any stranger is automatic suspicion that kills off the chance of connection, closing us up in a safe but isolated bubble. Connection requires risk … of the intelligent kind.
It is time we stopped closing ourselves off from others before we give ourselves, and them, the possibility of connection. We need to do this as individuals, and as countries. Only in doing so can we stop the never-ending circle of suspicion and alienation, and thus lack of connection.
And if the environment doesn’t facilitate that to happen, then it’s time to change the environment we live in.