BBC News


Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Living and learning with strangers

Bruce Parry painted up with Kayapo children, Krinu, Brazil
TV presenter Bruce Parry hangs out with Kayapo children, in Krinu, Brazil

60 seconds to change the world

Can a simple idea help make the world a better place? Each week we ask a guest to outline an idea to improve all our lives. Here, linguist Daniel Everett says we should all live a week with complete strangers.

Everyone should live a week with strangers.

When I was training to do field research, my family and I lived for several weeks among the Indian tribes of Southern Mexico.

The five of us, including my five-week old son, slept in a mud hut.


I got up early and worked in the field of our host. They fed us corn tortillas, sweet coffee, black beans, chillies and bananas, and we watched them as they watched us.

We learned all over again how to eat, sleep, work and look at the world around us.

Our hosts learned that some of the things they took for granted were hard for others.

My family learned that the world is a puzzle in which all parts must fit to be complete.

We all face problems as a world but if everyone could live a week with strangers, we could all learn new ways to understand and solve those problems.

So, if you are Muslim, live a week with Buddhists.

If you are white, live a week with blacks, or just cross the street and live a week with the new family that moved in.

Mix and match. Humans sing different melodies but learning to sing in harmony is the key to our survival.

Daniel Everett is Professor of Anthropology, Biological Sciences and Linguistics at Illinois State University, and author of Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes.

Below is a selection of your comments.

I am currently an international student studying in a UK university. Since my stay here I have lived with an array of people and have experienced the diversity of views over the same issue. I have certainly learnt to be more tolerant and at the same time, it's given me an opportunity to test my own beliefs. I'll try to see if there are any Buddhists in my area in the mean time.
Jawad Saeed, Hull

This is a simple but brilliant idea. Even on a national scale there are problems between the different races. We in Malaysia should know, for despite being touted as a racially harmonious nation, in truth we have our own racial problems. Taken on a global scale this can only help increase understanding between peoples. Count me in.
Yin Ee Kiong , Ipoh, Malaysia

Take the picture, wear the T-shirt, wine and dine the experience, but be quiet. Do you really think that just because you slummed it for a bit in a foreign country and culture, that you've had a unique life-changing experience that can affect the entire world civilisation?
Steve Fletcher, Cheltenham, UK

The first thing anyone would have to have is an open mind. Once that is accomplished, I believe the rest wouldn't be all that bad. An open mind to the fact that differences in others and accepting that, is a wonderful thing and would be a major milestone.
Karen Jules-Louis, NYC, US

I made a lot of friends from different countries while in college and we still keep in contact. When I get a chance to visit with them I enjoy being able to check out their cultures.
Celeste Mayo-Sirleaf, Lanham, MD, US

Along with 24 other Americans, I spent two weeks in Nairobi, Kenya, digging a ditch to take fresh well water from the well head to a storage tank. It was a life changing experience. While we had a nice hotel to sleep, working with the Kenyans each day was incredible. It made me understand how difficult daily living is for people in sub Saharan Africa.
Aaron Ashcraft, Barcelona, Spain and Los Angeles, CA

We are becoming a society that is closed in and forgetting the ability to communicate and be open to other people/societies that are different. Would be fantastic if this was an option we could go for.
Michelle, Croydon

I have spent time with host families in suburban France, and rural and urban South Africa. I have stayed overnight in a Swazi village and shared day-old pastries with women working the corners in the poorest neighbourhood of Atlanta. I am a better, deeper and far more humble person because these strangers welcomed me to their homes and because I had to struggle with the awkwardness of fitting myself into their life rhythms. Once you have washed out cow intestines for dinner with your Zulu sister, laughed yourself red in the face from some embarrassing language mix-up with your French host mom, or shared tips on condom lubrication and positioning with a toothless woman on a rainy city corner, your life can't help but begin to change. These things aren't corny, they are human and they are shared. It is the least of our responsibilities to search them out and dive into their confusing messiness. You try dancing in an imitation of a glorious Rwandan cow in front of 100 giggling kids and just see if you don't get hooked. We're made to want to know each other.
Emily C Lynch, Kigali, Rwanda

I can only assume that Daniel Everett has never watched Wife Swap.
Alison, London

I imagine this only works if you've put in a 10-year apprenticeship as an anthropologist first. In a very real sense we are, all of us, already exposed to different value systems every day of the week, in a way which no other generation ever was. The result of this enforced living together is, of course, not mutual understanding, but the internet phenomenon known as "flaming".
Ian Kemmish, Biggleswade, UK

I stayed a month with a very hospitable low middle class Muslim family in Morocco. It was not part of any scheme, no strings were attached, and no money was involved. I wish others had the chance to do the same.
Thomas Jakobsen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Yes, learning from each other can be enlightening. Unfortunately, there comes a point where we can't get past our prejudices and principles, leading to an unavoidable clash of cultures.
Fernando Levy, Monterrey, Mexico

"...Humans sing different melodies but learning to sing in harmony is the key to our survival." I couldn't have put it better myself. I would love it if people actually implemented this in their daily lives. Sadly, though most people that you meet act more like divas who believe they deserve the solo, even if they couldn't carry a tune to save their lives.
Amanda, Seattle, WA, US

Print Sponsor


Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific