I enjoy people.
Lately I seem to be in close proximity with a lot of people, a lot of people who are just, simply, afraid of people. This concerns me.
In a world where we toil to eke out a living, and really struggle to achieve great success, I have to ask, how can we expect to be successful if we fear people? Does not every successful, entrepreneurial venture, corporate climb, collaborative effort, benevolent charitable crusade, involve dealing with humans on a highly effective basis? And those rare exceptions, where socially awkward, or antisocial people did make it big, it was invariably because they surrounded themselves with a few trusted people who represented their ideas to the world they themselves were too afraid of.
I think back to when my children were small, a couple of decades ago, now. I encouraged them to be outgoing, to make friends, to meet people. I may even have “pushed” them just a little in this arena. I’d send them to different summer camps where they’d have to mingle with other kids they’d never met before, make friendships and acquaintances and rely on adult “strangers” for their needs. In some of their friendships and care situations, I often heard from other parents and caregivers, the term “stranger danger” used. I never really gave this too much thought, at the time, it seemed reasonable to teach children to be cautious. But now, as I look around and see so many fearful, socially awkward, anti-social and even agoraphobic people in this world, I understand the flaw in instilling in our children an innate fear of others. I think teaching caution is good, teaching fear is bad. “Stranger danger” – the word “danger” does illicit fear, rather than caution.
I agree, there are some dangers in this world. There are some bad people who seek to take advantage, or even harm, other people. But more harm is done by fearing all people for the few. The key to safety amongst the crowds is the power of observation. Always be aware of your surroundings, know who and what surrounds you, in every direction. I will walk the streets of San Francisco and New York, alone, at night, without fear. I am keenly aware, and appropriately cautious, I know my neighborhoods, I know my surroundings and I behave practically. I walk, head up, alert and focussed. I walk with a pleasant expression and make eye contact with everyone possible.
I have a B.S. in Criminal Justice. I studied bad people. I learned a lot in the course of my studies; first, I learned that I don’t want to be a cop, I don’t want to be an attorney, I don’t want to be a prison guard, I don’t want to be a forensic scientist. So I went back to school and studied accounting. What else did I learn? The power of observation and some useful facts. One fact; if you make eye contact with people, you are less likely to be victimized by any of the few “bad” people out there. Why? If they think for a moment you can identify them, they’ll choose the person who can’t, the person looking down, or away, or at their cell phone. Be alert, be aware, be safe, be unafraid.
I am shocked at how unobservant people tend to be. I am a keen observer, almost to a fault. But I am a writer and we are cannibals. We eat people, figuratively.
My daughter is an English major in college, and her creative writing book for the upcoming semester suggests, as a budding, young, writer, becoming a “cannibal”. Eat people up! When she told me about that, I realized, that’s what I’ve been doing for all these years! I just called it “people watching”. That’s why I like working in crowded public places. That’s why I love airports! When I look for a public place with free wi-fi, I select the one most likely to be loud and crowded, not the one most likely to be quiet and deserted. People fascinate me. I look at them, I study them, I talk with them, and, most importantly, I listen to them, I absorb them. I catalog them. I eat them. I devour them. Then I develop characters from them for stories. Or make examples out of them. I am a cannibal.
Upon making my acquaintance, many assume I am shy because I am, initially, quiet. I am quiet, initially, because I am figuring people out, observing, absorbing and listening. I am eating them up. But I am not shy. I can talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime about anything. I am a cannibal.
Don’t be afraid of strangers and “eat people”. My advice. Learn to go out into the world and talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime about anything and observe yourself grow in confidence and progress towards success. Not convinced? I have had several jobs during the twenty some years I’ve been in the accounting profession. All but one of those jobs were awarded to me because I knew someone, I had a personal connection, a contact, an acquaintance. I’m a name dropper. I’m a habitual networker. I eat lots of people.
Ironically, the only job I ever got that wasn’t as a direct result of networking, is the job I have now, which is, by far, one where people skills are the most necessary. I travel around the country to places I’ve never been before, meet with a group of highly skilled professionals I have never met before, and speak, standing in front of them for eight hours at a time. Fearless. And I eat them, too!
Another example. I am in love with a wonderful man, a very, very good, man. How did we meet? I was working in Fairbanks, Alaska, teaching a group of accountants how to use their new auditing software. Someone has to do it, that would be me. Upon hearing I was going to Fairbanks, many, I mean many, of my friends and acquaintances, mostly men, mostly on Facebook, warned me about “men in Fairbanks”. I was warned not to go out alone and all sorts of things. I have no idea what all the hysteria was about, I get that a lot, but it seemed especially bad on this particular trip. I was told that the male to female ratio was skewed and the men of Fairbanks were out, in force, after unsuspecting females. That most definitely was not my impression of Fairbanks, seemed a nice little town, quiet, lots of young families and couples. Of course, I went out by myself every night, I hiked by myself and went sight seeing by myself and out to eat by myself. No problem. On my last night in the area, I decided to go to a brewery that was reputed to have good beer and good food, two of my favorite things. The restaurant was very crowded and the hostess asked if I would mind sitting at the bar. I was happy to. As I sat at the bar, drinking my stout, eating my salmon, a man came up and sat down next to me. He was nice looking and he addressed me “you’re not from around here, are you?” Great line, right? We exchanged simple conversation, but, as usual, I was in keen observation mode. I noticed that everyone at the bar knew him, smiled at him, spoke with him, and held him in high regard. I established that he was either not a serial killer, or was a very crafty serial killer. Either way, I was impressed. He asked me if I’d like to go out on his “airboat” the next day and stop at a restaurant for lunch. This type of encounter has never, ever happened to me in my travels, before, or since. I have never, ever been asked out. I deliberated, but agreed. Best decision ever. We were friends for a couple of years, because I wasn’t looking for a man. We exchanged phone calls and texts intermittently. After he visited California, when the time was right, we became much more than friends. I took a chance on a stranger in a bar, in a “dangerous” town and found the love of my life.
The exceptions. The bad people. Yes, they exist. Yes, they could be anywhere. They could be anyone. They are as likely to be the next door neighbor in a small, quiet suburb as they are the odd looking stranger on the crowded city street. By sitting at home, sequestering ourselves safely away, not venturing out of our comfort zone, we are more their victim than if we met them face to face on the streets of some exciting city. Look what they’ve done to our life! They’ve limited us, they’ve made us afraid, they are subduing us and your ability to go out into the world, to meet interesting people, to see fascinating sights, to have unforgettable experiences, to make new, interesting friends, acquaintances, connections that may afford us growth, a strategic alliance for a new job or career. They may be hindering our success or our happiness.
Rape is a crime committed for the sake of power, not for sex. Rapists derive more pleasure from their ability to overpower, to subdue and to cause fear and helplessness in their victims than they do from the act of intercourse. Many rapists do not ejaculate during the act. They are satisfying their need for power by feeding off of their victims’ fear. This is true of many abhorrent, violent acts, including killing, the type committed by serial killers, random, without a connection to the victim. Like predatory animals, these rare and unusual criminals sense fear in their victims and derive pleasure from it. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Again, these people are as likely to be your neighbor in your safe, little community as they are different looking people in the heart of an urban metropolis.
I implore you, don’t be afraid. Don’t espouse your fears to others, for fear is frighteningly contagious. Don’t instill fear in children, they trust you to show them the ways of the world, show them a world of hope and brightness, not one of fear and darkness.. Your success, your happiness, and your quality of life depends on your ability to meet and interact with people, and not just people that meet your stereotype of “good people”. Discourage your fearful voice, develop an appreciation for differences in people, hone your skills of observation, become a cannibal, enjoy people, and find increased enjoyment in life as a result. Be a cannibal!