Could you pick your neighbors out of a police lineup? Hopefully you’ll never have to, but unfortunately for most of us, we couldn’t if our lives depended on it.
We’ve lived in the same house for over 10 years, and I’ll admit it took 5 before we made a real effort to meet people. Sure, we said “Hello” at the mailbox and waved in passing, but our efforts to be neighborly ended there. Over the last several years, we’ve worked to establish closer relationships with the folks nearby, and in turn, we now have a deeper sense of community and love for our neighborhood.
According to a 2013 survey conducted by Trulia, a leading online marketplace for homebuyers, the majority of Americans are happy with their neighbors, but admit they don’t actually know their names. Not surprising, in an age when we don’t really need each other they way people did in the 1950’s.
We have multiple cars per household, Amazon.com delivers on-demand, and kids rarely venture out to actually play in their yards. We can socialize with our close friends and family anytime via social media, so why would we bother to make friends with our neighbors?
In my twenties, I had a Pastor who emphasized the value of a community of people “doing life together.” He encouraged us to engage with one another in a meaningful way, rather than only exchanging pleasantries. “Doing life together” meant stepping outside of our comfort zone and making an effort to support one another with the real day-to-day life stuff.
With that in mind, perhaps we start to build upon the proverbial “May I borrow a cup of sugar” and make some real connections in our neighborhoods.
8 Behaviors of a Good Neighbor
Communication (the face-to-face kind)
Today, it’s easy to connect with your neighborhood with group pages on Facebook and the NextDoor app. This communication is fairly impersonal, though, as you only see a thumbnail picture of the individual and maybe their lawn service referral. Real relationships are born out of face-to-face conversation.
My husband first met our adjacent neighbors when he locked himself out of the house with our children asleep inside. Our neighbors were just moving in. Literally, they were unloading their large moving van, and my (shy) husband had to ask if he could borrow their phone to call me. They chatted for a little while, exchanged phone numbers, and we have been friendly neighbors ever since.
A short conversation with a neighbor woman who was working in her garden revealed that she’s a widow and could use a hand now and then with things around her property. Had we not stopped to say hello one day, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to be a blessing to her down the line.
Some people sincerely wish to keep to themselves. Understood. At the very least, exchange contact information with the homes around you. Drop a note on your neighbor’s door with your telephone number should they ever need to connect with you about something.
Friendsgiving and Other Holidays
I’m not a huge fan of Halloween, but I do appreciate that it’s the one time of year when everyone emerges from their homes to engage with one another. It’s the only night of the year that I have a chance to say hello to our neighbors across the street who otherwise manage to go unseen all year long.
Households sit out front with candy bowls and greet the trick-or-treaters. Parents walk along the streets pulling their kids behind them in the Radio Flyer wagon. (Many of said parents have a red solo cup in their hand. Don’t judge. We need it after the chaos of costuming our children for this candy fest.)
Beyond Halloween, any excuse to bring people together is a good one in my book! How about a 70’s-style block party, or a Friday night front yard hang out, with folding chairs and kids running around?
Last year, we hosted a Friendsgiving party in the fall at our neighborhood pavilion. We invited old friends, new friends, neighbors, neighbors of neighbors, and anyone who was interested. Potluck, BYOB, music, and firewood. It was a fantastic time that fostered new friendships, and I can’t wait until the next one.
Maintaining a friendly relationship with your next-door neighbors will go a long way when it comes time to replace a shared fence line or address a fallen tree. My neighbors and I have discussed all sorts of property concerns including an unclaimed trampoline that blew into the area behind our homes in a storm. We came together and dealt with it.
We also share referrals for household repairs, and swap stories about backyard bobcat sightings. I was grateful the day my neighbor texted me to say that our sprinklers had been on for hours on our non-watering day. And it has to be said – respectful neighbors are less likely to neglect their property, exhibit passive-aggressive behavior, or be loud and rowdy without regard.
It warms my heart when we go for a walk and encounter familiar faces and friends with whom we can stop and chat. My children recognize the “happy dog walker” who is always smiling. They know that Mrs. H from school lives in the house four doors down, and their dentist lives six houses the other direction.
Their buddies from school share the same community playground, and hold their lemonade stands on the same corner. This familiarity contributes to a vital sense of security in children. My kids feel they are playing in a safe environment, and understand the neighborhood is their home. In the event my husband and I actually plan a date night, there are responsible teenagers nearby who come highly recommended by neighbors.
We might be inclined to ask our neighbor if we can borrow a cup of milk, but what about their electric saw? Before you run to Home Depot to buy an expensive piece of equipment that you won’t use very often, try to borrow it!
What about when your kid comes home and tells you (at the last minute) that they’re supposed to dress like a Cowboy for school tomorrow? Before you run to Wal-Mart at 10pm, check in with fellow parents and ask if they have anything that will work for a quick DIY. Why should you buy a cowboy hat when Billy down the street has one that you can borrow and return?
And, if we’re all reading the same New York Times Best-Sellers, can’t we just pass them around and share the wealth?
It Takes a Village
There are the lone few who raise their hands to join the Neighborhood Watch Program, but ideally we would all share responsibility for the safety of our kids and properties.
I’m all for teaching our kids respect, and if I ever found out that my kids toilet papered someone’s house, you can bet that I would make them clean it up. (Right after I laughed with them about it and shared stories from my own toilet papering days.)
There’s a line, however, and kids shouldn’t cross it. Ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night or egging someone’s new BMW is beyond disrespectful and shouldn’t be tolerated.
When it comes to where we live, I believe that we help set the tone. If you’re irritated by the litter, clean it up. If your neighbor repeatedly doesn’t clean up after their dog, respectfully address it with them directly before complaining to the HOA. Active citizens who do their part to make it a “beautiful day in the neighborhood” are likely happier citizens who enjoy their community.
Love Thy Neighbor
Occasionally life happens, and you find yourself in a pinch. When you discover your car battery is dead, could you quickly call a fellow parent down the street and ask if they’ll pick your child up from school? If you left the house in a hurry, and aren’t sure whether you closed the garage, could you text a neighbor and have them to check for you?
Whether it’s unloading a new refrigerator or keeping an eye on your house when you’re traveling, most people are glad to help. Kindness. Our world – and our neighborhoods – could use more of it, don’t you think?
I have a hard time asking for help, but I’m learning that when I invite someone to be a part of my life in this way, it’s actually a blessing to both of us. They feel good, and you feel good. So go ahead and create opportunities to swap kindness. It’s what makes the world go ’round one neighborhood at a time.