The Duty of Kindness to Strangers
One quiet summer afternoon, several years ago, when my son was three years old, we went to the local neighbourhood library. There he played happily with a huge pirate ship set out on a low table filled with colourful blocks and wooden puzzles at the children’s section.
Soon a little girl his age came along and as they played side by side, my young child turned and gave her a hug as a sign of his affection and friendship. The little girl froze and let out a piercing scream. Stunned, my son stumbled back, his little face quivering with confusion as he battled with his own tears.
Helpless, I looked to the little girl’s mother who was nearby, hoping that she would reassure her screaming child nothing untoward had happened. Instead, the mother simply turned towards me and declared, “I have taught my child that no stranger should ever touch her.”
My heart is pierced even now reliving this incident. Grieved. That we can even begin to consider a 3-year old child as a stranger. Someone to be shunned. To be wary of. Just because we do not know his name. Just because he looks different. Just because he is not one of our own.
I am thinking of another 3-year old today. His name is Aylan Kurdi. He was from Syria and was on a boat with his father, mother and his older brother Galip, 5, together with other illegal immigrants when they capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.
His little body washed up on shore.
Even in death, one could see that he was loved. His father must have tied his young son’s shoelaces up before they left for that all important journey. His mother must have picked out his best clothes for the day when they woke up that morning. What hopes and dreams this young family must have held in their hearts to have made this perilous journey.
Is this little one a stranger too?
Have we really come to this as a humankind? To fend off those who are merely asking for a pinch of our hospitality? Could we really have become so hardened in our hearts that we allow strangers as young as three to drown in our seas?
My heart boils with a grief I cannot describe. That we have allowed strangers in our midst to perish. Just because we do not know their names. Just because they look different. Just because they are not our own. For strangers are to be shunned. To be wary of.
Even if this stranger was just 3-years old.
“I ask you not to think only of yourselves. Be kind to the strangers, whether come they from Turkey, Japan, Persia, Russia, China or any other country in the world…. After all, why should any foreign people be treated as strangers?
Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.
Oh, you of the Western nations, be kind to those who come from the Eastern world to sojourn among you. Forget your conventionality when you speak with them; they are not accustomed to it. To Eastern peoples this demeanour seems cold, unfriendly. Rather let your manner be sympathetic. Let it be seen that you are filled with universal love. When you meet a Persian or any other stranger, speak to him as to a friend; if he seems to be lonely try to help him, give him of your willing service; if he be sad console him, if poor succour him, if oppressed rescue him, if in misery comfort him.
In so doing you will manifest that not in words only, but in deed and in truth, you think of all men as your brothers.” – Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks 1911
Please, let there be no more strangers in the world.
(The International Organization of Migration (IOM) believes the number of migrants dying in Mediterranean Sea crossings could hit 30,000 this year if the current rate continues.)