A New Story of the Human Other

"There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met."

- William Butler Yeats

How would you describe your relationship with humankind? For example, do you regard all the humans alive on Earth today as your kin—i.e., as members of your extended family who you just haven’t had the opportunity to meet? Or are you more inclined to see Earth’s roughly eight billion humans as strangers, separate from you now and forever?

What Would You Do?

Put yourself in the place of a college freshman entering a large lecture hall, filled with hundreds of students, on the first day of class. After welcoming everyone, your professor poses this question: “When you entered this hall, just now, and saw all the people, did you see “us” or did you see “them”?

‍A quick show of hands reveals that most of those in the room saw them, not us. This prompts your teacher to ask: How does it feel to see each other as them. After a long silence, some volunteers respond with words like uncomfortable, isolating, disorienting, and lonely.

Your professor then asks everyone to stand and introduce themselves to four strangers: One on each side, one behind and one in front. Immediately, a cacophony of chatter fills the room. When things settle down, your professor asks: “What was it like to meet four strangers?” Some students respond with positive sentiments like comforting, energizing and reassuring while others offer assessments like awkward and forced. So it is that, in this first class, the instructor has seeded the possibility that those gathered in the room might come to live within the relational story of us rather than the isolating story of them.  

An Experiment

It’s one thing to imagine what it would be like to live within the relational story of us, but something else, again, to directly experience our interconnectedness. Yet this shift is possible for each of us. All that’s required is a bit of bravery and an appetite for experimentation. Here is a poignant video that shows the way.

i-What feelings, thoughts and/or emotions came up for you while viewing this video?

ii-What do you suppose would happen, if we all used our eyes to show each other, and the world, that we care?

See No Stranger!

Imagine arriving in a foreign city, populated by people who are markedly different from you in terms skin color, ethnicity and culture. As you begin to walk through the streets on your first day, you feel self-conscious and off-balance… like you don’t belong. But at mid-day, while relaxing at an outdoor café, you start to become curious about these people—e.g., about their way of life, their families, their beliefs and customs, their hardships and joys. In the midst of your musings, it dawns on you that, deep-down, we are all a part of the same lineage… members of the same human family!

With this momentary expansion in your perspective, it occurs to you that maybe there really is no such thing as strangers… and that, as author and activist Valerie Kaur posits, those who you, heretofore, have regarded as strangers are, actually, just parts of yourself  that you have yet to meet!

Holding Kaur’s suggestion in mind, what if, as a radical experiment in awakening, you went to a busy outdoor public space; and holding a sign with the words, “Free Hugs”, you began to walk among all the strangers—i.e., among all those parts of yourself that you have yet to meet?

This is exactly what Juan Mann did in Australia one day. If you are curious to see what happened check out this video.

With his free hugs sign, Juan was participating in a worldwide social movement that invites all of us all to experience what it would be like to see no stranger.

The Power of Empathy: Beyond Separation

Human rights worker, Angie O’Gorman, tells a story of how she was awakened late one night by an intruder standing over her bed. No one else was in the house.

Somehow, amidst her fear, O’Gorman realized that she was connected to this stranger by the simple fact that they would both be damaged by what ensued, or they would both emerge safely, with their integrity intact. This insight allowed her to act with empathy for both herself and the intruder.

‍She began by speaking into the darkness, asking the stranger what time it was? “Two-thirty,” he replied. She expressed concern that his watch might be broken because the clock on her nightstand read 2:45.

After a pause, she asked how he had entered the house. He said he broke a window. She said this was a problem for her because she didn’t have the money to fix it. He said that he was also having money problems.

‍When she felt it was safe, she told the man, respectfully, that he would have to leave. He said he didn’t want to… had no place to go… Lacking the force to make him leave and seeing a person without a home, she said that she would give him a set of sheets but he would have to make his own bed downstairs. The man went downstairs, and O’Gorman sat up in bed for the rest of the night. Then, the next morning they had breakfast together and the man left.

By expressing empathy for this stranger, Angie O’Gorman created a space where no one wins unless everyone wins… because if someone loses, everyone loses. This story has relevance to this moment in history, as we endeavor to shift from the consciousness of separation, to a mindset grounded in empathy and compassion. This is a monumental challenge insofar as a consciousness moored in separation engenders fear whereas one grounded in compassion generates trust. Upshot: When our orientation is toward separation, we silence those with whom we disagree; when empathy becomes our goal, we invite everyone to the table because our goal is to create a world that works for all.

A Global Dance Party

There is perhaps no more exhilarating and liberating way to manifest our shared humanity than to join together in music and dance.

We need not be strangers to one another. Indeed, as humans, we are born with the equipment for connection: Eyes to behold each other; arms to hug each other; and music and dance to celebrate our shared existence.

"We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep."

- William James

"Taking the time to make others feel seen is an essential first step in validating and affirming each other’s humanity."

- Jen Early, Steppingstone #27 Guide

Join the conversation hosted by Jen on the Community Page