In a World Full of Strangers, Everyone is a Suspect

I wrote a newspaper column nine years ago about the perils of living in a world full of strangers – nobodies, if you would. Now that I am an official Nobody I decided to pull out that old column to see if it still had resonance today.

Following is an excerpt from that piece so you can decide for yourselves. For me, I found it interesting that suspicion and fear were just as rampant then, four years before 9/11, as they are now. Social networks have done much to bridge the human divide, but we still live in a world full of strangers.

“We go about the daily duties of our lives, meeting and talking to dozens of people, yet without hardly knowing or remembering any of them. You might get a raised eyebrow of recognition, perhaps a polite smile. ‘How are you, I am fine’ could just as well be replaced with ‘we have acknowledged each other’s presence – now leave me alone.’

“I went to the post office to pick up my mail after the holidays and the clerk asked if Paul was my mailman. I didn’t have a clue. I’ve lived in town for two years and I don’t even know the name of the guy who delivers my mail six days a week. Come to think of it, I don’t know who my Sparkletts Water guy is, my lawn guy or the guy at the yogurt shop down the street (with as many times as I go there, he should be family by now.) I know the name of my favorite checker at Vons, but that’s only because she wears a nametag.

“None of this is really news to any of us in Southern California. We like being anonymous. We’re too busy to stop and chat like Midwesterners. Getting to know your neighbors takes too much time.

“But this attitude, this mindset, is killing us. You can’t change a tire on the 405 Freeway without someone taking a shot at you. You can’t ride the bus without fearing for your life.

“In a world full of strangers, everyone is a suspect.

“It’s a lot easier to kill people you don’t know. You don’t have to grieve for their families or go to their funerals. They are not your neighbors but a nuisance. Their existence is without consequence.

“I’m not so naïve to think that finding out who your mail carrier is will change all this. But somewhere along the line, in our nation’s grand rush for superiority in all human endeavors, we have forgotten what it is to be human. We no longer value life because we no longer live it together.”

4 thoughts on “In a World Full of Strangers, Everyone is a Suspect

  1. Gary,
    Who are you again?;-)
    I guess you are just some nobody whose blog I read to learn, and debate and become a more knowledgeable practitioner.
    I only wish all the somebodies were as eager to engage as us nobodies!

  2. Good point, Serge – that’s exactly right (as I sit here on a Sunday afternoon working on client stuff, rather than watching the Anaheim Angels pummel the New York Yankees — some extra time would be nice!)

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