Strange(rs) No More #1

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So I came up with the idea of “Strange(rs) No More” pretty much at the beginning of this blog, and yet I still have yet to include a formal example of the challenge in action (although darkeve commented on the actual page with her own related personal experience). Rather than wait for someone to submit their own account I have decided to begin this project by sharing one of my own experiences…

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This semester marked my first semester of college, an interesting change of life that lead me to meet a whole bunch of new and intriguing people; these new people included Alyssa*. I met Alyssa through one of my gen-ed classes, she was a student in her late twenties who had been trying for a degree in education for quite some time now, but still was only in her Sophomore year credit-wise. In class Alyssa was prone to making many comments unrelated to the course load and asking questions that the class generally viewed as unnecessary and obvious. I am ashamed to admit that I fell into the group mentality and treated Alyssa as an outsider behind her back, while still being friendly to her face because I was, of course, a “good person.”

Eventually I received a payed position photocopying my class notes for a student, who I later learned was Alyssa, to use since she had a learning disorder that made it difficult for her to manage her own notes. This knowledge made me feel guilty for ever poking fun at her comments, however off topic they may have been. I stopped making comments about her behavior immediately following, and yet I continued to sit idly and listen to others pass judgment because it was a way to bond with my new college friends.

I may have never changed if I hadn’t been hungry following our last class session before the final. In the dining hall after class that day I was literally tackled by Alyssa, in tears. After I had managed to calm her down slightly she asked if we could talk and I, of course, agreed. Over the next hour we discussed her aspirations and how she was considering dropping out because she was struggling every semester in many of her classes. I did my best to help Alyssa over the course of this conversation, offering to tutor her for the final in our shared class and encouraging her to stick to her dreams. In reality, however, she helped me more than I could have ever helped her.

This is the experience that taught me I cannot do things half way; its not right to be nice to someone’s face but then judge them, or allow others to make those same comments without speaking up. Alyssa is a wonderfully caring and honest person, she is quite funny and incredibly unique… but I never would have known that if I hadn’t been thrown into a conversation with her, all because I was letting my personal judgments cloud my ability to see her for who she truly is.

It is because of this encounter that I have resolved to force myself to get to know the people I judge negatively at first, to befriend them and find the redeeming qualities that they posses, because everyone has something lovable about them. I hope some of you will join me in this challenge and maybe even share your experiences with the blog, via sunfollowers@gmail.com!

* Name changed out of courtesy to my new friend.

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If this appeals to you then you may also be interested 100 Strangers ! This project challenges its members to, “stop people by the street, talk with them, ask if you can take a portrait. Post the picture to Flickr and 100 strangers pool. Try to get an idea who they are. Write a caption that tells something about the person in portrait. Describe how you got the photo.” It also challenges those who participate by asking that they “try to get a wide array of portraits: rich, poor, white, black, working, doing sports, etc.” The project’s main purpose is to help people improve their photography skills but I also think this serves as an excellent way for people to reach out to others and make connections in what can be a very lonely world. The camera serves as an excellent aid in making those connections!

I’ll leave you with a selection of some of my favorite photos from this group:
(some are happy and some are quite sad but they’re all very moving)

3197315845_74622d36ba“I saw this guy sitting on the ground and decided to strike up a conversation. Meet Mike. Mike was a Chicago cab driver at one time, but his life changed in an instant when he was shot several times during a robbery. He survived but because of a bone infection he lost a foot and was no longer able to work. I really felt for him and to be honest, I really didn’t know quite what to say other than to offer a few expletives in what I thought of his attacker. We talked a bit more and I asked him if he would mind if I took his picture for the 100 strangers project and he politely obliged.”

3032295628_c66b62f505“Lilian Brown told she was 93 but was not stopping until there was no more war.”

2168835293_167148d614“I saw this gentleman today as I was heading across St James Park. His impeccable outfit caught my eye and I scampered after him (he walked very quickly) to ask if he would mind me taking his photograph. […] He asked that I not take a photograph of his face- not to protect his identity but because ‘I tend to freeze when a camera is pointed at me’. I complimented him on his stunning attire (I noted that he had pale lavender socks to match the rest of his outfit) and asked about his hat. He advised that his hat is one of about 63- all of which are custom made. They are ‘one of life’s little luxuries that I can afford’.”

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Use the comments to talk about your own experiences turning unlikely strangers into friends, tell me if you’re going to try to challenge yourself with Strange(rs) No More, or show me your favorite images from the 100 Strangers project!

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