On encounters with strangers


Excerpt from: Michael Palin interviewed by Michael Cathcart
on Books + (Radio National, Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

7 July 2012


Michael Palin is perhaps best known for his role in ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and for his many travel documentaries to far flung places.  In this excerpt from a recent radio interview he describes his ‘open spirited’  approach to engaging with strangers and the often unexpected rewards this can bring.

Michael Cathcart: “ …I guess that’s the feeling I get when I watch you travelling, because there are so many people who want us to think that the world as a dangerous place. You know, the news is full of wars, asylum seekers may be terrorists. People who are swarthy may have something under their robes which will blow you up, as indeed they might!

But when I watch you making a travel doco what I encounter again and again is the ordinariness of most people, the familiarity of them even in their strangeness they are sort of like us.

Is that what you find?”

Michael Palin: “Yes I do find that on the whole. I tend to be quite gullible really, some people would say, open minded others would say.

I am wary. I can see potential danger when it’s around.  I mean if there’s a group of men with guns manning a road block you don’t go up and say ‘I think this war is ridiculous, you should get out of it.’

But I assume unless I am wrong that everybody is innocent unless proved guilty and that has been borne out in almost all of the encounters I have had.

Whereas as I think if you travel informed by a lot of what media and politicians might say you are far more guarded, you get very nervous.

And in fact people are generally there to help you. They are interested in you. Because they speak a different language or look differently or dress differently doesn’t mean they are a threat.

Actually I found this out for myself as I have various preconceptions and I think that maybe someone dressed like this brandishing a spear might be wanting to kill me. No, no the spear is purely ceremonial and they bring them along only when they want to welcome people.

So you learn things this way round …

And so I’m just saying ‘Think for yourself. Try to approach all these issues and the people you meet in an open spirit, as open as possible.

And generally speaking, I would say, ninety nine times out of a hundred you will be rewarded with an encounter which you hadn’t expected and you will feel better and you will feel more comfortable.”

How does this resonate with you?

Alan Stewart