My younger sister is afraid of strangers. She's in her 20s, but she acts like someone's gonna try to lure her away with candy or throw her into a van at any moment. And I'm confident that I know why she's like this. It's because she has a really good memory. She never forgets anything that anybody tells her (regardless of how true it is). And she's been banned from watching the local news because she keeps a list of horrific crimes that have been covered. So she can recite exactly what happened to the last newsworthy victim who "thought they were safe too."
I don't really scare very easily. I figure my chances of getting mugged are smaller than most because a) I'm 6'3" and 275 pounds, b) I don't drive a nice car or carry valuables, and c) I'm not good-looking enough to worry about someone's lust taking over when they see me. So I guess it might be unfair to judge my sister when she gets worried. But I think there should be a little more common sense sometimes.
A few years ago, when I was in college, my roommates and I invited a big group of people over to our house to watch a football game. And we had a really big, really inexpensive house. It was inexpensive because it was in the worst neighborhood in the whole city. Well, because so many people were coming and going, we left the front and back doors unlocked (which was not common practice for the ghetto we lived in). So about halfway through the game a rather old (and rather tipsy) woman walked right in through the back door. She started asking people for any money they could spare so she and her roommate could go to the grocery store for some food. Most people thought it was weird or funny, but just avoided her. But since I was the guy who invited everyone over, I figured I should talk to her. So (before realizing she was a little out of it) I asked her what she needed. I didn't have any cash, so I made her two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and gave her a bag of chips (in about 12.5 seconds). And on the way out she asked if we were a church. So I figured she just got a little mixed up because of all the cars outside and assumed that we were a local community church. No big deal, really. Just kind of weird and kind of funny and a little sad.
But my little sister had a very different reaction. At first seeing the woman (and let me remind you, she was old), my sister freaked out and ran into the other room. I don't know if she expected the lady to pull a gun on one of us from her muumuu or maybe pull off a realistic old-lady mask and explain her plot to take over the world. But in any case, my sister was terrified. She hid behind the next biggest guy in the house and looked like she was about to cry. And if she could have made it to the door, I'm sure she would have jumped in her car and driven home at top speed. Then after the lady left, my sister kept shaking and asking if we should call the police. Talk about an overreaction.
And I think I can really blame this total distrust of strangers on my mother. She wouldn't just give us the standard "stay close to me so you don't get lost" when we were in the store. We were more likely to hear, "If you don't stay with me, then the gypsies will steal you!" And that will scar a child emotionally.