Alastair Humphreys, from Airton left university to cycle round the world with a budget of £700. He cycled in temperatures from -40C to +45C, 70000Km through Africa, South and North America, Siberia, China, Japan and then all the countries ending in …stan. It took him four years. Four years of vulnerability. He says “Almost everyone in the world treated me well..don’t believe what you see on TV: the world really is a good place.”
In Mark 6 Jesus sends out the disciples with strict instructions about how they are to travel and stay with strangers. They too travelled with little, they too depended on the kindness of strangers. We presume that they too talked with people of many different persuasions, political opinions, beliefs, and ways of making a living.
People have not changed that much in their dealing with vulnerable strangers over the last 2000 years.
If you want to make friends with someone, go to their house, eat the food provided and praise the cook; wise words from Marshall Rosenberg in his system of non-violent communication. Being vulnerable to others, throwing yourself on their mercy, is a reasonably sure fire way of starting off on the right foot. People just love being hosts. But we don’t like being vulnerable.
We surround ourselves with walls, gates, security. We prefer detached houses which separate us even from our closest neighbours. We cling to privacy and think it to be a right. This allows us to regard strangers as a threat and to treat them with suspicion.
The perennial fallback of politicians trying to gain the approval of daily newspapers is to clamp down on immigration, to extend gaol sentences for those breaking the law, and to declare war on evil foreigners. We love it. We buy the newspapers. We watch it approvingly on TV.
Yet the worst punishment that our society has is solitary confinement and amongst the greatest joys that we experience are meals with other people. Once we get over the hump of fear and defensiveness, strangers bring happiness into our lives.
Many of us have recently attended street parties, eating with people we don’t normally mix with. Did we enjoy it? Did we some! Perhaps it is time to start demolishing the walls that separate us from strangers and take a risk, a bit like Alistair did but perhaps not quite so extreme. Remember, “the world really is a good place.”