Today's Topic



Kindness of Strangers

Natalia J. Garland

Print Version

Some people tend to rely on sayings to explain away complicated or unwanted circumstances. The first and second sayings listed below, for example, are often regarded as natural or logical, although they are false and impede growth. The third saying expresses a sad reality, although that reality can and should be improved. All three sayings promote submission to oppression.

  • You can't miss what you never had.
  • When God closes a door, He opens a window.
  • I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

When people say, "You can't miss what you never had," they sound like they are stating an obvious fact. Exactly what kinds of things are they talking about? What can't you miss? Things like electricity, education, a diamond ring, arms and legs, a vacation? And why can't you miss these things just because you never had them? The assumption is that ignorance is bliss.

If you do not have the basic necessities of modern life, that means there is a lack of resources. If there is a lack of resources, then there is also a lack of opportunity. Without opportunity, people do not have the power of choice or the means by which to make a contribution to society. Not only is this lack felt by the individual, but society is also depleted when its citizens cannot participate at full capacity.

"You can't miss what you never had" really means trying to function from a deficit. If you never had a vacation, then you are feeling the accumulated daily fatigue of your responsibilities. This is the same as missing what you never had. Perhaps you can live without ever owning a diamond ring, but why should you have to live without the power to choose whether to buy one?* The pseudo-compassion of the "You can't miss what you never had" saying now reveals its underlying oppression.

Likewise, I have often heard genuinely religious people say, "Whenever God closes a door, He opens a window." They are sincere when they say this. Now, what kind of god goes around closing doors on people and then expects them to crawl through a window? Or are you supposed to gaze out the opened window and view life differently under a metaphorical new ray of light?

People seem to say this in reaction to disappointment. There is a loss of some sort. It is emotionally painful. Rather than face the loss and rebuild, they settle for a substitution that can be framed within their limited window. They submit to a cruel god, rather than to expand their faith and move forward through a dark period in their life.

What bothers me most about the "Whenever God closes a door" saying is that it is not biblical. There is no Bible passage that refers to this. On the contrary, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (John 10:9). Fooling around with the symbol of the door is like altering Holy Scripture. It creates a falsehood that passes for truth. God is reduced to and accepted as an oppressor.

This brings me to the third saying, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." I occasionally hear literate women quoting Blanche DuBois as a way of summarizing the only good relationships they have ever had. Blanche is a character in A Street Car Named Desire, a play by Tennessee Williams. The quotation also describes the lives of other women, including patients, who may be less educated or unaware of their prototype, Blanche.

Some women have never had a meaningful long-term relationship. They did not have loving parents, their siblings are estranged, and there has never been marital happiness. These women have survived, practically and emotionally, through the intervention of kind others with the resources, power, or influence to help. This help is usually a one-time event, and the helpers are like knights in shining armor or fairy god-mothers.

The care provided may be a job, money, a gift, advocacy, protection, or some other form of safe passage through a stage of life that otherwise would not have been survived. These women gratefully remember such kind strangers as their most significant relationships. Moreover, they are able to apply these helpful events to their own long-term benefit. The therapist may also be viewed as a kind stranger, and may be only one of several therapists to whom the Blanche-patient has turned for support over a lifetime.

So, why is identification with Blanche a problem? It normalizes a very unfortunate lifestyle. The individual accepts aloneness as the price to be paid for their uniqueness, differences, or imperfections. There is a failure to take charge of life and to act upon the environment. The oppression is rather tragic because it has its roots in a lack of personal empowerment and self-worth.

Indeed there are kind people in the world, and this is not meant to underestimate the virtue of kindness and its positive impact. It is dependency on acts of kindness, and the elevation of kind strangers to central relationships, that I perceive as the problem. Kind strangers do not view the Blanches of the world in the same way. The intimacy is all in the mind of the beholder.

Oppression can be subtle. Psychological oppression is an internal process, almost like brainwashing, and it has negative lifestyle consequences. Some people do not believe in an absolute truth, but we can all try to grasp objectivity, reality, and facts. Clear thinking will help to set us free from emotional bondage. (Written 02/06/06: bibliography available.)

[NOTE: For other essays on similar topics, see That's Your Opinion (written 08/02/04), Meet Me Halfway (written 10/06/03).]

[*ADDED NOTE: Lest it be misconstrued that the phrase, "why should you have to live without the power to choose," refers to socialism or income redistribution, let me emphasize that I was referring to educational and job opportunities, to psychological empowerment, and to fulfillment of personal desire as opposed to the intentional stifling of the human spirit and blocking of access to resources, goods, and services.]

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

Find More Topics in the Table of Contents

Return to Homepage


Copyright 2006 Natalia J. Garland