Do you know your neighbors? Can you name the people and pets who live in the houses on your block? Have you shared stories and/or meals with one another?
When we moved to our current neighborhood three years ago, we were determined to get to know as many people as possible. I had just finished reading The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak, so I was motivated to draw a map of our block, post it on our refrigerator, and start being, well, neighborly. Why? Because neighboring matters.
Both my husband and I grew up in neighborhoods where we could leave the house in the morning and play all day with friends. We were welcome in one another’s homes, our parents made sure we were safe and reasonably well-mannered, and neighborhood moms dispensed many a popsicle and Bandaid. Casserole dishes crossed streets and warmed hearts after births or illnesses. We knew about major life events and both celebrated and mourned together.
Neighboring matters because people matter. We are stronger when we work together, when we build relationships and communities. Humans are meant to be connected with one another.
Unfortunately neighboring doesn’t happen automatically. Relationships aren’t built overnight, getting to know folks takes time and effort (as well as trust and vulnerability), and one must actually get out of the house and into the neighborhood to truly be a neighbor.
We’re still working at it in our neighborhood. We know most of the people on our block by name. We watch each other’s cats at vacation time. We exchange gardening tips. We check on elderly neighbors, and we keep an eye on each other’s houses. One young family even hosted “Neighbor’s Table” potlucks last summer, hand-delivering invitations door-to-door. Lots of people walk their dogs, and my husband (an extreme extrovert) is always ready to strike up a conversation.
Our hope is to continue cultivating relationships and growing a neighborhood web of interdependence and friendship that enriches everyone’s life. Are we there yet? Not hardly, but we’re working on it.
What simple things might you do to begin neighboring (or increase your efforts) where you live?
For Further Reading/Reflection:
Check out The Art of Neighboring website and book.
Here’s an interview from NPR with Professor Peter Lovenheim on the value of getting to know your neighbors.
Community Dinners is an interesting take on how a worshiping community decided to get to know its Seattle neighbors through dinner churches and how that has expanded in surprising and wonderful ways.
Photo: Carl Mueller, Creative Commons License. Thanks!