A long time ago I used to zip around town with Hannah (the only grandchild then) in the back seat of my car and we’d go to the park, the library, the mall etc. One day at Tysons we had the “What’s considerate like?” conversation. Another time we were at the library – I insisted on taking all my children there whether they wanted to go or not because I love books. We were in the play area with the fish tank and rocking chair when Hannah approached another little girl who was playing nearby. When Hannah’s greeting went without a response she, confused, looked at me and asked, “Why she not friendly?”
Poor Hannah. She was just trying to be personable and she was too little to understand that while she was unquestionably secure since Aunty Ning Ning was nearby, the other little girl’s mom was around the corner, so the child was understandably playing it safe by not talking to strangers.
But her question illustrates the tension between two concepts we teach our kids: A) friendliness and B) wariness of strangers. I don’t know enough about this (I should’ve read The Berenstain Bears Don’t Talk to Strangers more carefully) but I think one thing people teach their kids is to know how to identify people who are “safe” to ask for help in public if the occasion requires it.
When I was little we were taught to look for a policeman in uniform if we got lost somewhere. In the absence of an officer I think kids were also instructed to look for a mom with children in tow since she’d know what to do.
But the perils of “stranger danger” were not on Hannah’s mind that day. She just felt the confusion of having her friendliness unmet.
One of the hardest things for me to learn has been to be friendly without any need for a reciprocal response. Many times in This Disabled Life I have discovered that reciprocity will not be forthcoming so it’s best (emotionally safest) not to expect it in the first place. I do, however, have a new understanding of the value of unsolicited encouragement and unexpected kindness, and I enjoy giving these out when I can since I have received many gifts of this nature and know how they can turn a frown upside down. I also understand that although I’m moving “at the speed of life” this might be SO much slower than your speed of life and you might simply not have time to reciprocate. This is one of the painfully obvious outcomes of learning to live with an injury like mine.
The idea of reciprocity is very human. There is give and take – it appeals to our sense of justice. But my internal rules for everything have been upended and here I am trying to love without the expectation of return. But if I’m going to live this way it won’t be without reflection – every act of friendship on my part is an intentional attempt to love my neighbor as myself. My impaired social filter often disallows me from being generous, say, to other drivers, but I’m trying…more accurately I should try.
Don’t worry, I think it’s okay for me to not put myself in the path of people I know from experience whose idea of encouragement does not jive with my own. But I choose to honor the sentiment behind the delivery that, to my admittedly picky sensibility, was flawed.
The point is that you don’t know what kind of response you’re going to get, if any, until you put yourself out there. I was proud of my niece for reaching out that day at the library and trying to make a new friend. I’m going to keep on doing the same, and since loving your neighbor as yourself is a God-endorsed guideline, I am sure I will not live like this at a loss.