In the past year, the number of stranger-related messages has skyrocketed.
According to a survey conducted by the University of Helsinki, more than a third of strangers who responded to a question about “What should I do if I get a stranger to text me a rude, offensive or hateful message” answered that they would “say nothing and delete it.”
And according to another survey, one in five respondents said they’d delete a stranger’s text message in response to a “no-hugs” question.
These responses reflect a real-life situation where the person in question is not necessarily rude or mean to you.
But they also reflect a reality of social interactions in which strangers can have negative connotations that are not always understood by the person who’s talking to them.
“In social situations, people are sometimes surprised by things that are normal or acceptable in the normal world, but not necessarily normal or safe in a stranger situation,” says Ramiro Pimentel, the professor of communication studies at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona.
“When we say things like, ‘You are a terrible person’ or ‘You should be ashamed of yourself,’ we can also be seen as expressing the idea that we’re trying to hurt them.”
“In a world where we are all talking on the phone and the world is constantly connected to the Internet, we’re all being constantly monitored,” Pimentels says.
“We can be shocked by something that is normal, but we can’t actually say anything about it.”
The reality of being a stranger in the digital age is that there are people out there who are trying to shame you in ways that are out of character for the person you’re interacting with.
This is particularly true in situations where there’s no one else around, and it’s often a matter of context: a friend or family member or co-worker may be a stranger, but they may also be a colleague or colleague’s roommate, or a relative or neighbor.
“People often respond with hurt and embarrassment, but that’s not necessarily what we mean by a bad message,” says Pimentes.
“It’s more like we’re not really aware of what is normal or unacceptable in the world and what is really normal.”
In this situation, it’s hard to know what to do or what to say when the person being insulted is a stranger.
But in some cases, these reactions are understandable.
“They might think that we are rude because we are not a human being,” Piments says.
Or, they might think it’s rude because they are unfamiliar with what’s normal.
“That’s a mistake,” says Katerina Niederleben, a professor of psychology at the University Of Leiden.
“What people really mean when they are rude is that we don’t understand the situation and the person is really rude.”
And if you are a stranger and you have to interact with a stranger who is a fellow human being, you should consider taking steps to avoid these situations in the future.
“Being rude is one thing; being an ignorant jerk is another,” Nieders says.
You should also think about how you can keep your cool in these situations, whether you are in a public place, a private room, or your own home.
And if that means taking time to look at what the person on the other end of the phone is saying, consider it.
“If it’s a real stranger, then there is a very good chance that they might say something that isn’t appropriate or that they are being overly critical,” Pimental says.
For example, if a stranger is telling you something like, “I’m sorry,” and you hear it as a compliment, it might be acceptable to laugh and say, “Thanks for the compliment, but I don’t know how you would do that with me.”
Or if the stranger is talking about a situation in which you’re trying your best, but something is just not going your way, you might try to find a different option.
“I do think it is really important to keep in mind that when a stranger makes a rude comment, it is not something to be ashamed about,” Pementels says, adding that if you can, you can say something like “Thank you for coming to my house, but it’s just not happening right now.”
Even if you’re the person with the rude message, it could still be possible for you to make it right.
“The main thing is to keep calm and try to understand what the other person is saying,” Nieserlebes says.
And it’s important to remember that while it might seem as though you are being rude, it may not be in the context of the conversation.
“You don’t need to be rude, but sometimes people do,” Nieers says, explaining that people might feel they are in need of reassurance that what they’re saying is not offensive or rude.
In these situations