A moment of peace: What we gain from strangers

06 August 2021

Topics: advocacy refugees

Michael Marais / Unsplash

I was standing in a socially distanced line for my groceries this week - headphones in, mask on - when a woman behind me apologised for standing on my sticker. 

I gave her a “no worries” smile, only to be met with a pair of animated eyes above her mask and an outpouring of small talk - about the length of the post office line that morning, and how nice the weather has been. 
Unexpectedly, the quick exchange left me with a longing for more, and I realised just how much I’ve missed talking to people from outside of my bubble. 
This interaction came back to me during a conversation this week with our Senior Refugee Advisor, Brian Barbour. A major part of his work, and that of the larger team, is breaking down barriers for refugees in their daily lives, so they can ultimately be recognised by governments, and society at large, as people to be treated with dignity and respect - not just as a problem to be dealt with. 

I asked what he thinks is the most important thing people can do to raise their own awareness and drive more compassion and empathy towards refugees globally. In addition to the obvious things – reading, campaigning, giving to social causes – his answer came back to something simple...

A member of staff from our local partner in Bangladesh enjoys conversation with Jamila, a Rohingya refugee, whilst she cooks lentils for her family in a Community Kitchen in Jamtoli Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar. Richard Wainwright / Act for Peace

It all comes down basically to engaging with each other and not closing ourselves off.  There's a quote by Tolstoy that I love –  

A person, “has only to come into contact…with
people equally good and bad, of different denominations,
who condemn each other’s beliefs, to doubt of the truth
of the belief he professes himself.”

-  and basically, I think that means the more we engage with people, particularly those from a different background, the broader our viewpoints, the more we can see and understand, and the more humble we become.
So, I think engaging with refugees ideally, and migrants and just different people around you, talking to them, becoming friends with them, is the single greatest thing you can do to open your mind because it ceases to be about ‘them’ and it becomes about ‘us’. We see them as one of us and part of us.

While chit chat with a stranger can often feel inconsequential, there’s something invaluable about talking to people from different walks of life and finding common ground – even if that commonality is something as trivial as the weather.

In these uncertain and increasingly insular times we’re living in, it’s so humbling to be a part of a team and a community that continues to look outward, and drive compassion for diverse communities around the world.  

Remember, even a fleeting interaction with someone on the street can be an opportunity for connection and for stepping into the shoes of that person. Each time we create an opportunity to do this, we're taking another step towards building a better, more caring world. 

Words by Emma -  Act for Peace team member