‘Stranger danger” is a strategy some parents use to keep their kids safe. Children are cautioned not to talk to strangers. I know a boy who was so indoctrinated by stranger danger, he became hysterical whenever a strange adult approached. Kids are taught stranger danger despite the fact that only 1 in 10,000 missing children are kidnapped by a stranger.

Adults are not indoctrinated this way. Many of us, though, developed a fear of strangers during the peak of the pandemic. We deliberately crossed the street to avoid the person walking toward us. This kind of avoidance no longer seems necessary. In fact, a recent “Tribune” article was titled, “Why you should talk to strangers.”

Author Stephanie Vozza reports that strangers can be a powerful source of information. For example, I met a young man named Tyren Thomas, who works in IT and offered to fix my creaky old computer. He also told me he is an “extraverted introvert.” I had believed the human race was divided into introverts and extraverts. But more than half the population are actually “ambiverts.”

These people are natural introverts who become extraverted when circumstances call for it. Ambiverts tend to have good people skills. They excel as salespeople. We might consider an extraverted salesperson to be “pushy” but ambiverts know how to put the customer at ease.

They enjoy meeting new people but, because they’re introverts, they can endure only so much socializing. They appear to be easy-going but their minds are always running. They hate making shallow small talk and prefer talking about big ideas. They love those rare moments when they meet a kindred soul.

Some of us become ambiverts due to our occupation. I had a terrible fear of strangers. It took years of detective work and interviewing people as a reporter to overcome my fear of strangers. Now I can enjoy gatherings where I don’t know anyone.

This happens from time to time in Forest Park. I’ve been to backyard parties where I barely know a soul. I also found that attending a block party where we don’t live can be a challenge. On Election Night, I was invited by Dr. Eddie Kornegay to watch results at the VFW. I admired Dr. Kornegay for running for state representative of the 7th District. He took on Speaker of the House Chris Welch.

Dr. Kornegay’s courage prompted me to cast a rare Republican vote. I accepted his invitation to the VFW for the same reason. I didn’t expect to know many people there but saw some familiar faces. There were also plenty of strangers. I had a meaningful talk with a couple who had traveled there from Crystal Lake. I also met more members of the Kornegay family. I even found a kindred spirit in Tyren Thomas. We had both attended Catholic schools and endured our share of academic struggles.  

It can be rewarding to engage with strangers. That’s how we get to know the dog walkers in the neighborhood. We also meet the stroller pushers. Sometimes we need a stranger’s help. A friend of mine had fallen in the street and I couldn’t lift him. I didn’t have my phone to call the paramedics.

A female dog walker responded to my call for help. She was the strongest stranger I’ve ever met and single-handedly got my friend to his feet. He wasn’t hurt and was grateful for her help.

When I was growing up, my family had a tradition of inviting strangers for the holidays.

So if you’re short of strangers this holiday season, I would be glad to stop by for pie.

John Rice, a Forest Park resident who grew up in Oak Park, is a columnist for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.

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