Get to Know Your Neighbors
Get to Know Your Neighbors
Human and Otherwise
This modern world co-locates disconnected humans. We live a hundred feet from someone for fifty years, and meet them only at the mailbox. The tragedy of America lives daily in this failure to know one another. Consider the moment, in the history of urban planning, when the suburb replaces the front porch with the garage. What faces the street these days is the garage door. We drive our private vehicle up to the front of the house, click the switch, and drive into the fortress. Every suburban home a walled McMansion. It used to be that what faced the street was the verandah. Used to be we could wave to the neighbors from the porch. In this architectural re-orientation is concretized the shift from a relational orientation to a private and closed domestic sphere. This shift reflects elements of class and aspiration as well. The ghetto (as in the forced displacement of European Jews into an ethnically segregated neighborhood) was always teeming with relationships. Where deprivation makes folks reliant upon one another, we are still in one another’s business. It is only with the illusion of independence fostered by financial stability and an individualist worldview that each family retreats and becomes an island. But this is how we die, people. Alone.
So, turn back into the breach. Bake a batch of cookies and head out the door. Cross the lawn. Knock on your neighbor’s door. And learn to talk to them. We’re not talking about a specific neighbor here; you don’t have to engage the ornery ones. The directive here is about seeking your community, getting to know your local situation, getting involved. If you want to feel connected to a place, get involved. You can do this in so many ways that seem, dare I say it, old-fashioned. Become a member of your neighborhood Y. Take note of who gathers every day at the coffee shop. Introduce yourself. PEOPLE WATCH. Sit in the park. STRIKE UP CONVERSATIONS WITH STRANGERS. RIDE YOUR BIKE. Get involved in COMMUNITY THEATRE. Join a committee. Join a COMMUNITY GARDEN. VOLUNTEER. Crack the shell, get out there, make some noise. Patronize local businesses. Put down your dang phone.
At first it will be awkward. At first you will feel alone, out there without your earbuds. The first conversations you have will be laced with awkward pauses as you disrupt the surface tension of disconnection. But at some moment you will find someone who meets your eyes gratefully —Oh my God, you’re alive. And it will become easier. It is vivifying to engage people. Become an artist at engaging folks. Memorize ten conversation starters. They can be simple.
How long have you lived here?
Where did you get that ___? (e.g., amazing sweater) What’s your favorite thing about this neighborhood? What’s your least favorite thing? How has this place changed since you arrived? Do you live with anyone? Can I help you with that? Do you have children? How do you like to spend your time when you aren’t working? What’s your favorite restaurant near here? What’s your favorite spot in nature near here? How long have you lived here?
Now get out there...
Video: Distill | Photography: Stein Egil Liland | Licensed from Pexels.com, used with permission.