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No Strangers

Children with Williams Syndrome are born with a genetic defect on chromosome 7. Twenty six genes are missing in every cell of their body. The children generally have a normal, somewhat “elfin” appearance, but suffer from cardiac defects and developmental delays. The most striking characteristic of children with Williams Syndrome, however, is their gregariousness and utter lack of stranger anxiety. 

In one experiment, they were exposed to a person with a “scary” appearance, one that most normal children avoided. The children with Williams Syndrome went right up to him and tried to make friends. Even after having a negative experience with a person, they will still go up to strangers, greet them and attempt to engage them in conversation. This trait, while endearing, can actually endanger children with Williams Syndrome because of their utter guilessness and trust. Children with Williams Syndrome are also free of racial bias. Most normal toddlers show a preference for pictures of people with a similar appearance to themselves, while Williams children appeared to make no distinction between people of different skin colors or backgrounds. 

The automatic affinity that children have for people of similar color or race apparently comes from the frontal lobe of the brain, which facilitates decision making. When we must make an instant decision whether or not to trust a stranger, and don’t have enough information to decide one way or another, the brain relies on short cuts, and “like me” or “unlike me” is one of the filters the brain uses. Of course, in an immature mind, this process can be very imprecise and does not reflect reality. To a child with Williams, however, the brain does not process people this way – anyone is a potential friend and companion, regardless of their external appearance.

This particular “defect” that Williams children have calls to mind the description of Maimonides of the Messianic era: “And in that time there will be... no war, no jealousy or competition” (Mishneh Torah, conclusion). We will no longer fear or suspect each other, because there will be no reason to. All of us will be purified of our evil inclination, and goodness will be abundant.

The end result is that all humans will cooperate in positive and productive activities, and the enormous energy and resources currently directed towards protection and military deterrence will go to serve human needs, in a spirit of helpfulness and camaraderie. Over the years we have witnessed a gradual metamorphosis in society, from one based on conquest and warfare to one based on charity and mutual aid. This proves that indeed we are on the verge of the manifestation of the prophecy, “Then I will transform all nations to be pure of tongue to call together the name of G-d and serve Him as one.”

 

 


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