Do you have good neighbors? Do you consider yourself a good neighbor?
Columnist Franklin P. Jones once said that nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbor’s noisy party than being there. We would add that counting your neighbor among your friends also makes you more tolerant and understanding of them.
But let’s face it, after a long day on the job, at school, or wherever, one of the last things on our mind is being neighborly. We get that. Statistically, we move roughly every seven years, so we may not be inclined to invest much time and attention to anything or anybody not living with us. We understand that too.
Still, there is the matter of the “oughtness” of life, which is what we should do even if we aren’t inclined or don’t feel like it. English professor and clergyman, Richard Whately, observed that a man is called selfish not for pursuing his own good, but neglecting his neighbor’s.
Neighbor neglect? Like paint on french windows, that’s a heavy charge that shouldn’t be applied with a broad brush. After all, as President Wilson said when observing widespread social needs at the time, it’s hard to love God or our neighbor on an empty stomach.
At Neighborly Town, we believe that most people can be neighborly while seeing to the rest of the life and responsibilities. We think many people simply lack practical ideas, guidelines, and inspiration. This, of course, is where Neighborly Town comes into play.
So what can you do if you want to become more neighborly and help build a better neighborhood? These are questions that we ask ourselves here at Neighborly Town, and which we hope will spark an ongoing nationwide discussion.
But first, let’s be clear about a few things—everyone has the right not to be neighborly and being neighborly can require effort. Yet it need not require breaking a sweat.
There is also the matter of property rights which some consider the underpinning of many other human rights. While both property owners and tenants are obliged to follow applicable laws and regulations including any homeowners association covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), most people prefer to develop, design, maintain, and use our property more or less as they see fit. Checking in with the neighbors or otherwise being sensitive to the common interests of our neighbors doesn’t come easily to some.
Similarly, our independent spirit as Americans is also something many of us cherish. Some of us have a highly developed sense of self-reliance. While this can diminish the need for and lower the cost of public assistance programs, it can make it more challenging to build the kind of neighborhood that can benefit all who live in it.
Still, there is also the reason why people began to live near one another as “neighbors” in the first place. Back in the day, when varmints were as big as modern day McMansions, people learned to live and work close together to protect one another and put some meat on the table. They quickly learned the value in old sayings such as “there is safety in numbers” and “many hands make work small.”
Today, what’s left of prehistoric varmints are safely inside natural history museums. And, while the pioneer days are also long gone, today there are a relatively few number of people who choose to live far apart from others. Safety is one reason, but there are a host of communal reasons as well.
One of those reasons is that neighbors working together can generally accomplish more than any individual or family can alone. Along with enhancing the safety and security of the surrounding community, think about other pursuits including the building and maintenance of common driveways or developing amenities such as multi-purpose paths, landscaping, gardening, playgrounds, picnic areas, pools, sports courts, and other improvements made for the common enjoyment of all neighbors.
Neighborhoods also make it easier to hold occasional activities such as holiday parties, seasonal block parties, progressive dinner parties, ice cream socials, and the like. They are all fun ways to get to know and nurture relationships. Not only can neighborhood improvements enhance the lifestyle of neighbors but they can also improve property values. Even in rural areas where homes are further apart, neighbors often get to know one another and develop strong bonds of friendship and support.
Even though the International Space Station is more of a communal work and living space than an interstellar neighborhood, it can be instructive to see the pains that are taken to ensure optimum results. The General Rules of Conduct begin with this requirement:
ISS Crewmembers’ conduct shall be such as to maintain a harmonious and cohesive relationship among the ISS crewmembers and an appropriate level of mutual confidence and respect through an interactive, participative, and relationship-oriented approach…
For those of us with our feet firmly planted on terra firma, we know from personal experience that maintaining a harmonious and cohesive relationship with neighbors pays dividends. In one case, we witnessed neighbors working together on the design and construction of fences. In another, green-screening for privacy. And in another, the paving common driveways without written agreements compelling them to do so. Working together as neighbors reduced the time and cost of each project while reducing the chance of bad feeling or worse yet, a full-blown dispute. Joint projects can also give neighbors one more opportunity to develop closer ties and better relations while setting a good example for others including their children.
In being neighborly, there is a principle at work—neighborliness is good for all concerned. Beneficiaries include the neighbors involved, the neighborhood, and the community at-large. On the Neighborly Town blog, we regularly present testimonials from those who applied this principle in their neighborhoods or witnessed its application.
This is an excerpt from Beyond Stereotypes, How to Be Neighborly.