Our neighborhoods can help to define our social lives. Are we active in our neighborhood? Do we ignore our neighbors? Are we gossiping about activities and scenes we happen upon? Are we considerate and helpful or do we blame our neighbors for poor looking yards, over-hanging branches, collected leaves, rotting or misplaced fencing?
Our neighbors are apart of our lives whether we like it or not. They are walking their dogs or allowing them to bark all night long. They are fixing their cars in the driveway or leaving their garbage a little too close to your property. They are hosting a party with guests that block your driveway or playing their music very loudly with high bass in the dead of the night. How many of us focus on the negative instead of seeing what we are too lazy to see?
Maybe they have suffered a trauma (home invasion, burglary, kidnap) in the past and their barking dog is the only reassurance they have for their safety. Maybe their financial status has suffered a dangerous hit and fixing that car themselves is their only means of finding a job and getting there. Maybe they are blaring their music to drown out sobbing and abuse. Maybe they suffered a sleepless night (new baby, child with nightmares, illness) and nearly forgot trash day and barely managed to even get it to the curb before work. Are all of your neighbor problems going to have such a good reason behind it? Likely not, but you won’t ever know unless you take the time to find out.
Lets start at the beginning. You do not know any of your neighbors- this is quite common in a very busy world where many households require that both parents work to keep up with regular expenses leaving children in the hands of other care-givers. Try getting out more. Take a walk with your family or ride bikes with your children. Instead of fencing your dog in the backyard, walk them once in a while. Sit on your front porch or balcony and watch the children play or just enjoy the quiet evening. When someone walks by, passes you on the sidewalk, or drives slowly by with their windows down take a half second to wave, smile, and say hello. Ask how they are doing, and here is the kicker, mean it! Give them the courtesy of patience for an answer. Ask questions, compliment them. This is supposed to be your downtime, which means you have the time to enquire and show an interest.
Use your family holidays to pass around gifts. The internet is full of blogs and crafting sites that have many ideas for door to door gifts, homemade or not, that will allow you to connect with your neighbors even when they are not home. One blog I read talked about a woman’s experience for making her birthday more meaningful by committing one small act of kindness for each of her neighbors.
If you do not have free time? Beside the fact that you need to learn to let a few things go, there are times when a well planned schedule with included free-time gets out of hand in an emergency. These emergencies may take more than a few days to resolve. When this happens you can still grab opportunities when they arise and be prepared to act on them. Drive the speed limit through your neighborhood and make more use of the simple acts of smiling and waving. Outward shows of kindness will encourage your neighbor to return them with a wish to get to know you.
Give. Give what? There is always something to give even if your financial situation allows very little breathing room. Share flowers from your garden or fruit from your tree. If you borrow something be sure to give something, no matter how small, in return. Clean items before returning them, leave a little extra oil or gas in the tank of that lawn mower. Get out of the house and help your neighbor shovel their drive, allow neighborhood children to coast down your hill. Help a neighbor carry groceries or help to pack their vehicle.
Where does all this get you? Plenty. When you show kindness to your neighbors you may find they are happy to return the joy. You may find a get well card or an offer of help when they notice you have been harmed or ill. They may keep you company while you sit outside your home waiting for emergency response to arrive and ensure that strong smell of natural gas is not dangerous. They may even ask you over for dinner or offer a drink. They will be more willing to jump your battery when a child leaves the car door slightly open all night.
Then there is the security factor. I have known neighbors to check on each other in times of power outages, hurricanes, thunderstorms, tornadoes, ice storms, or car accidents. They will happily store packages or watch your home when you leave town. They will quickly call 911 when they suspect a peeping tom, burglar, or home invader- it’s nice to know you can depend on those around you and they can depend on you.
While you may not be able to change the neighborhood in which you live, you can change the experience you have in your own neighborhood and if you only improve the life of one of your neighbors in even the smallest manner, you have accomplished something great.