One morning the residents of the 100 Aker Wood notice two newcomers, Kanga and Roo. At first, they are objects of curiosity. They look different and have different habits. Then, Rabbit, who loves order and struggles with novelty gets in the mix: “Suddenly we wake up one morning and, what do we find? We find a Strange Animal among us. An animal of whom we have never heard before! An animal who carries her family about with her in her pocket!”
Troubled by the novel lifestyle and customs of the newcomer, Rabbit hatches a plan to rid the Wood of Kanga and her son Roo and enlists the help of a number of the residents, who seem thoughtlessly to go along with Rabbit’s plan simply because he has one!
The plan fails, and much to his surprise, Rabbit and Roo become best friends. Xenophobia is healed when Rabbit, Roo, and Kanga get to know one another. Strange Animals become good friends and solid citizens in the 100 Aker Wood when their unique way of life is recognized and affirmed.
The story sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “Otherness” challenges our naïve understanding of our communities and way of life. Virtually every wave of immigrants is viewed with suspicion, discriminated against, called derogatory names, and eventually accepted as valuable members of the community. Immigrants and strangers have to prove themselves, often by achieving virtues not expected from established groups.
There is no surefire cure to xenophobia, but the residents of the Wood give us one path from otherness and suspicion to friendship and acceptance, and that is found in face to face relationships. While face to face relationships are no substitute for good public policy and prudent language among public officials, getting to know persons from other religious and ethnic groups opens the door to friendship, appreciation, and community.
Walls and bans will not protect the 100 Aker Wood any more than they will protect the USA. Uniformed and harsh words from political leaders are also counterproductive. In fact, our attempts to be absolutely secure undermine the deepest values we most cherish and put our own safety at risk. It is appropriate for the residents of the Wood to see if Kanga and Roo, and later Tigger, are friend or foe, but this happens through encounter and abstract judgments. Prudence is important, but fear is dangerous for a great country or a small community. Fear mongers often – like Rabbit’s first response – exaggerate the fear and minimize our safety. They proclaim, “Be afraid, be very afraid,” even though one study indicates that the risk of being killed by a refugee is 1 in 3.6 billion. The risk of being killed by an undocumented worker, or illegal alien, is approximately 1 in 11 billion. By any estimation, these are pretty good odds and properly vetted refugees often become the most loyal and productive citizens of our nation. (https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/terrorism-immigration-risk-analysis)
Let us learn from the residents of 100 Aker Wood. Let us be vigilant, but also welcoming. Let us notice strangers in our midst, but be willing to get to know them. Let us go beyond fear to prudent hospitality and full-fledged welcome. If you see someone from another race – or woman wearing a hijab – smile and wave. Go beyond prejudice and xenophobia to an attitude of openness and welcome. It is likely that the person you meet is a faithful and patriotic American citizen – or a law-abiding “alien” – seeking the American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just as you are. Let us aim at the spirit of the Wood, to be a place of hospitality “where all are pilgrims but none are strangers.”