Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Strangers in our midst

Posted on May 05, 2012 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated May 06, 2012

Illustration by REY RIVERA

The Dalai Lama preaches compassion. So does Jesus. And so do many other spiritual teachers. Mostly, they speak of a universal love or compassion for humanity which, in the Dalai Lama’s case, involves every sentient being on earth.

As much as I have tried to consciously cultivate a spiritual practice along those lines, I do not know if I can ever love ALL of humanity. Sure, it is easy to love certain people, especially if they are easy to love, for whatever reason. They could be good- looking, pleasant, affable, or they could fit into certain stereotypes that appeal to our collective cultural psyche that makes them loveable.

It is a fact that not everyone is lovable, or at least not that easily lovable. Some people may appear obnoxious or despicable in our eyes, and some may just be too culturally different. The wide swathe that separates us may be too wide. It could be a religious, racial or social divide that makes rapport close to impossible. The best that can happen is a polite ignoring of each other.

What has always interested me is how people can bridge this gap so that there is more communication, rapport, and perhaps, eventually, an openness to greater compassion.

There’s just too much misunderstanding, distrust, and fear in this world so I try my best not to contribute to heightening it further. Or at least, I try to be conscious enough to remind myself to temper the negativity.

I want to share with you my experience with strangers. I am generally open to strangers. To me, it’s a conscious step towards more compassion.

I have mostly had good, pleasant experiences with strangers. A number of times I have found myself in inconvenient situations where I needed to reach out and ask for help from people I did not know and I am amazed and grateful at how helpful many of them have been.

People have stopped in the rain to help me push a stalled car. In foreign places, strangers have pointed me to the right train or street, the better store with the better bargain. Once, on a bus in Brussels, passengers actually shelled out money when my group and I did not have the local currency to pay for our fare.

More often than not, you can have a decent conversation (at times, even an interesting one) with a total stranger you meet in an airport, a train station or anywhere else. I recently had an eight-hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur and found myself not running out of stories chatting with a man I had just met. We talked about issues that were important to us, our children and spouses, and life in general. By the time we boarded the plane, it felt like we’d been friends for a while.

It is quite easy for us to open up to people we do not know. For one, we have no shared history. We have no past to refer to and that is good. The past is often the place where we have formed judgments, opinions, and biases about people we know. And these limit our appreciation of who they are or could be. Whatever we hear or see about persons we already know is filtered through our set impressions of them.

Maybe it’s because we are not comfortable with surprises or we do not want to be disappointed, or be proven wrong in our judgments. We want a predictable world of relationships and so we feel safe putting people in pigeonholes. Fairly or unfairly, everyone is reduced to a judgment. In our eyes, for example, anyone who has committed a hideous crime like rape or murder will always be a rapist and a murderer. They will never live that down no matter how much they may have repented and have tried to turn a new leaf. Our “common sense” tells us that it is only a matter of time before they do it again.

Sometime ago, I read an essay on pornography and the writer said that that the big no-no about porn is not the sex. Sex is a big deal in our being human and almost everyone likes sex. The obscenity about porn is that it distorts reality by reducing it to just one thing. Pornography is ONLY about sexual prurience. There are no real multi-dimensional people making love in porn. There are just body parts, sex organs pleasuring each other. In many ways, one can say that the reduction of the totality and complexity of a person to an act, a characteristic, or an event he may have been involved in comes close to pornography. Don’t you agree?

On three occasions, I have invited complete strangers to my house for dinner. I invited people I did not know through the Internet to share a “night of passion” over dinner and conversation. I always had a great time. Each one of my guests was interesting and had something to share. This exercise has only strengthened my belief that when we bravely open ourselves up, the world decompresses and unravels with all of its gifts and surprises. The good, interesting people show up.

By the same token, I am quite amused when people who have been following me for a long time as a public person are surprised when I sit down with them and we chat extensively. I am taken aback when they say that they are surprised how easy I am to talk to, just like any regular guy. And they say this about almost every famous person they meet and share a moment with.

But isn’t this true of everyone, famous or not? Aren’t people generally friendly? I once summarized this in a book I wrote in a line that reads, “You will know me when you forget my name.” It is my testimony to the false myth of celebrity. Labels, judgments form hierarchies, and breaking them can produce pleasant surprises.

Every time we make the unfamiliar familiar, the unknown known, or when we welcome the strange, the different, the “other” into our zone, we not only learn the art of accommodation, we also actually expand ourselves. We get more comfortable with the diversity, the mystery and open-endedness of others, and of life and all its peculiarities. Soon we begin to notice in us an openness to new music, art, books, types of people, ideas, and beliefs that can only enrich us.

I would like to end by sharing the following inspiring thought from The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration, a book of quotes by Vera Nazarian:

On the late afternoon streets, everyone hurries along, going about their own business. Who is the person walking in front of you on the rain-drenched sidewalk? He is covered with an umbrella, and all you can see is a dark coat and the shoes striking the puddles. And yet this person is the hero of his own life story. He is the love of someone’s life. And what he can do may change the world. Imagine being him for a moment. And then continue on your own way.

* * *

This is your chance to learn to take great pics this summer and all year. I will be having a Basic Photography workshop on Saturday, May 12.

Cost: P3,920

Address: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights QC

Time: 1 to 6:30 p.m.

* * *

Call Olie at 09168554303 or e-mail me at jpfotojim@gmail.com for inquiries and reservations.

1 to “Strangers in our midst”

  1. A wonderful post Jim. There have certainly been strangers in my own life who have stepped in when some friends have stepped out, and when they were most needed. I value life and its serendipitous encounters with people who invariably become friends and blessings from being open to see them and myself, on occasion as we really are.

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