On Being Neighborly

by Marcus Brotherton on May 23, 2013 · 56 comments

in A Man's Life, Friendship, Relationships & Family

neighbors

Between college and graduate school I took a gap year where I worked in a restaurant, snow skied every chance I got, and tried to figure out the rest of my life. During that year I lived in a big old suburban house near the lake along with five to eight other guys and sometimes one girl, depending on which month it was.

We had a lot of fun that year. Our driveway was filled with sports cars and motorcycles. We barbecued most meals and played music with the volume set to eleven. At night we climbed onto the roof and smoked cigars, dreaming of our futures. Occasionally we shot off firecrackers, just for the sake of sounding our barbaric YAWP.

One night we were shooting bottle rockets from an upstairs window when a loud knock sounded on the front door. It was our neighbor from across the street, and, boy, was he ticked. His roof was made of cedar shakes, he explained, and he was worried one of our stray bottle rockets would burn his house down. Would we—please!—knock it off.

Sure, sure, we said, and curtailed the activity for the night. We were polite enough to his face. But after he left we agreed among ourselves that our neighbor was only a worried fuddy duddy who’s greatest interest in life was spoiling our good time.

Fast forward twenty years.

I have become that neighbor, in many ways. If a gang of young ruffian renters moved in across the street and fired bottle rockets toward my house, I’d certainly go over and politely ask them to knock it off.

Something changes between the days of being a guy and the days of being a man. When it comes to where he lives, an immature man tends to see his neighborhood only as a place to hang his hat. But a mature man sees his neighborhood as a place he helps create.

It’s in every man’s best interest to live in the best neighborhood he can. And by “best neighborhood,” I don’t mean a gated community filled with McMansions. I mean a neighborhood filled with belonging, identity, empathy, understanding, and a strong sense of community.

To do that, you need to become a good neighbor. But how?

A few years back I edited a book called The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door, by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. Pathak is a pastor in Denver, Colorado, and Runyon works for the Denver Leadership Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps municipal governments, businesses, and faith-based leaders unite around common causes.

The idea for the book began one day in 2009 when Pathak and Runyon gathered a group of twenty leaders to brainstorm ways they could better serve their communities. Bob Frie, mayor of Arvada (one of the cities within the greater Denver area), joined them, and the group asked Frie a simple question: How can we best work together to serve our city?

The ensuing discussion revealed a laundry list of social problems similar to what many cities face: at risk-kids, areas with dilapidated housing, child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, loneliness, elderly shut-ins with no one to look in on them. The list went on and on.

Then the mayor said something that stopped cold the discussion. “The majority of issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”

Read that quote again if you need to. Its ramifications could well affect your life.

Frie explained that neighboring relationships are more effective than civic programs because they are organic and ongoing. When neighbors are in relationship with one another, for instance, the elderly shut-ins get cared for by the person next door, the at-risk kid gets mentored by a dad who lives on the block, and so on.

The group took the mayor’s words to heart. They began a city-wide initiative aimed at helping people learn these ideas and then apply them where they lived. They called their initiative simply: The Art of Neighboring. These are some of the findings from their study.

1. Being a good neighbor begins with a positive, proactive mindset.

“The solutions to the problems in our neighborhoods aren’t ultimately found in the government, police, schools, or in getting more people to go to church,” Runyon and Pathak wrote in their book. “The solutions lie with us. It’s within our power to become good neighbors, to care for the people around us, and to be cared for by the people around us.”

That’s where becoming a good neighbor begins. It begins with how a man thinks. Instead of seeing the place he lives only as the place he hangs his hat, he begins to see the place he lives as a place he influences. He knows it’s up to him to make things better.

Author Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point agrees. Exploring the “broken windows” theory first articulated several decades ago, he described how even small things done or left undone in a neighborhood can spur crime rates up or down.

When litter isn’t picked up, when graffiti remains on a wall or fence, when a window is broken but not fixed—these can all communicate that a neighborhood is declining, Gladwell wrote. And when people’s outward environments appear to decline, people tend to respond socially with less care, thus the potential for increased crime.

The opposite is true as well. Just as lapses in signs of care and concern can set off an escalation in deterioration, so can positive actions create a chain reaction of improvement. Thus, a good neighbor’s mindset is focused on how he can influence his neighborhood for the better, and he seeks to address problems while they are still small, nipping them in the bud. He feels a sense of ownership, sees his neighborhood as a reflection of himself, and knows his actions affect others. He begins to be a good neighbor simply and in small ways, undertaking the responsibility of creating an environment that he—and others—will want to live in.

2. The simplest way to become a good neighbor is to smile, wave, and get to know names.

I was out for a walk the other morning when I saw a guy walking toward me on the street. I gave him a head nod and said, “Good morning,” as he passed, like I do whenever I meet anyone in my neighborhood. But the young man didn’t even look at me or respond in any way.

He was carrying a backpack bearing the name of our town’s community college, so that gave me a clue to his standoffish behavior. He may have had a test that morning and been focused on what lay ahead. He may have not heard me, or been in a bad mood and simply didn’t want to respond.

But I suspect it was something simpler. I’m not sure his exact age, probably around 18 or 19, but I suspect he was simply thinking more like a child and less like a man.

In this day and age, children are correctly taught never to talk with people they don’t know. If a 44-year-old stranger said good morning to my 10-year-old daughter as she waited for the school bus, I would strongly urge her to ignore him, even to run away.

But adult-aged neighbors need to be re-taught to engage with people they don’t know, at least when it comes to those who live near to them. If a car drives down my street and I’m outside mowing the lawn, I make it a habit to smile and wave. I see plenty of other adults doing the same thing.

The embryo of good neighboring is proactive friendliness. It means initiating a positive interaction with those you come in contact with. The simplest way to do that is to smile, wave, and learn your neighbors’ names. If someone moves in next door, take them an apple pie. If your neighbor goes out of town, offer to watch out for his place while he’s away.

3. Being a good neighbor means you treat others as you want to be treated.

Some years back when my wife and I bought our first house, we became fast friends with our next door neighbors, a couple about our age. We’d eat dinner together, we’d talk over the fence, we’d mow our lawns for each other when out of town.

They were the neighbors from heaven.

Then they moved out and another couple moved in. The woman was okay, but the guy was a grade-A jerk. There’s no polite way to say that. He was surly and rude, he made noise at all hours of the night, he held wild parties and left empty beer bottles on his front lawn. Other neighbors would actually complain to us—the people who lived closest to them—asking us to do something about it. Cowards.

They were the neighbors from hell.

The point is that when it comes to living in close proximity to other people, any number of relational issues can arise. No neighborhood is perfect, and it takes tact, timing, wisdom, forgiveness, boundaries, and at times courage to live alongside of other people.

Still, the best way to create a good neighborhood is to be a good neighbor yourself. As an adult, you might live in a suburban neighborhood, a rural area, or in an apartment in the city, yet wherever you live, the same principle holds true: your actions will affect others, and their actions will affect you.

This means you’re mindful of your actions. You realize you don’t live in a frat house anymore. You keep your music turned to a volume where it can’t be heard outside your walls. You pick up after your dog and keep him on a leash if your yard is unfenced. You carry your trash cans back inside the garage the same day as your trash is picked up.

When it comes to where you live, you help set the tone.

I haven’t talked to Runyan and Pathak for awhile now, so I don’t know all the positive changes that resulted from their initiative. But I do know that word began to catch on about being a good neighbor, and a number of positive stories poured back their way. The initiative has even begun to catch on in other cities and states. The authors have received letters from mayors, city managers, and police officers, describing how the initiative is paying winning dividends.

There were stories of block parties being held, of neighborhood movie nights, of single mothers being helped out with free groceries and diapers, of neighbors who came down with cancer receiving weeks of free meals.

Many of the stories reflected smaller, simple interactions. One man wrote to say that he shoveled the driveway of his neighbors when they were away on vacation. He’d never spoke to his neighbors before, but now they always smile and say hello.

About a year after the initiative began, Runyon and Pathak received an e-mail from their assistant city manager, Vicky Reir, who wrote:

Dave and Jay:

I’ve been working in the city manager’s office for thirteen years. This is the first time that I can remember going through an entire winter without receiving a single request for assistance in shoveling a driveway. No one has asked for help for themselves or an aging parent, not one call. Maybe this is a coincidence, but I wonder if this is because of the neighboring movement. I guess there’s no way to know for sure, but I thought you’d be encouraged.

“When the people who live around each other become closer in their relationships, great things happen,” Pathak and Runyon wrote. “Start now by doing the small things well, and commit to good neighboring as a lifestyle. You have been invited to begin a sacred journey, one that has the potential to change your block, your city, and possibly the world.”

Question: Why is it important for a man to become a good neighbor? How have you seen this play out where you live?

____________________

Marcus Brotherton is a regular contributor to Art of Manliness. Read his blog, Men Who Lead Well, at: www.marcusbrotherton.com

 

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bryan May 23, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I’ll never forget my dad calling my brother and I when we were teens to help him push a neighbor’s car that was stuck on an icy driveway or to shovel snow for an older lady or for the family that was trying to move in during a snow and sleet storm. He watched out for the neighbors and what they needed and led us in jumping in to help. Incidentally it went both ways. If we ever needed anything, we always knew that help was just next door. The people in the neighborhood respect each other and trust each other; therefore it’s a great place to live

2 Jon May 23, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I don’t know about other parts of the country, but in the Pacific Northwest (or at least south western Washington) I know for sure that the major reason neighborly acts have declined around here is because people in these parts are so standoffish and passive aggressive. I know, this is a generalization, but I’m sure there are others from the PNW here who can vouch for me. Random acts of kindness are considered strange and creepy, and people who try to get to know strangers are generally met with the cold shoulder.

Sad, really.

3 John May 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Great article and I echo everything you mention. It might not be the easiest thing to proactively be friendly and meet new people, but I can personally attest that it pays dividends. We moved to a smaller town in the Upper Midwest that isn’t known as being exceptionally welcoming to newcomers/outsiders, but with some luck, a positive attitude, and willingness to step out of our comfort zone we now have a great group of neighbors. Christmas, New Years, Fourth of July and numerous other holidays are spent at one neighbors house or another with food and drinks and jovial conversation, it’s pretty awesome.

4 Justin May 23, 2013 at 9:25 pm

@Jon

I live in the PNW and it kind of depends, but I think that goes for anywhere. I just always try to be helpful no matter the others disposition. I think more over all, people are wiling to be neighborly if you give them a chance. I think it just takes people a bit more to warm up to strangers than it used to.

5 Pete May 23, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Great post Marcus. I think a large part of it is just due to the younger generations being too used to interaction via computer/phone screen, they don’t have the ability like the older generations do to just put themselves out there in person and create a relationship.

Interestingly, Mark Sisson did a post relating to this over at Mark’s Daily Apple. It was about natural disasters and the fact that everyone looks after themselves. He suggested we are far better off if we know and get along with our neighbours, as it is a lot easier to survive extreme events as a community than as an individual.

6 Matt May 23, 2013 at 11:19 pm

As counter-intuitive as it is for me to be relationally proactive, this article rings very true. The idea of depending on neighbors before insurance has much appeal to me.

Forgive the tangent, but I suspect that insurance, among other factors, have contributed to the highly individualized, solitary mindset prevalent today, if unintentionally. Simply put, neighbors are becoming more and more unnecessary in day-to-day living (or at least such is the illusion), and so we lose the accompanying benefits of solid communities, as listed in the article.

7 Brett C. May 24, 2013 at 1:57 am

I grew up in an incredibly interconnected neighborhood, with TGIF block parties, Christmas parties, and even my families “October Birthday Bash,” the whole neighborhood is a unit. Coming back as a young adult, I’ve enjoyed sharing beers and stories with my childhood friends parents, and good discussions about neighborhood issues. Truly a blessing to grow up in a community like this

8 Cleone May 24, 2013 at 8:13 am

We have been fortunate to have lived with good neighbors who clear our driveway of snow, pick up mail and feed our pets when we are away. We also share tools and personal resources to help our neighbors.
How Fargo of you (1 & 2) are books written by an Arizona transplant to our area that recalls everyday kindnesses that he and others have experienced living in the areas surrounding Fargo,ND/Moorhead,Mn.

9 Peter May 24, 2013 at 11:33 am

Great article Marcus!

As Pete describes, the modern generation has somewhat identified with “I share therefor I am” and the sharing is normally through an intermediary such as Facebook. Personal interaction, not established or verified through these intermediaries, seems to be shunned. This may be the “new” protocol as discussed by Brett & Kate (FN1) and may establish a long-term requirement to make a neighborhood web-presence.

My thoughts dwelled on the evolution of dependence upon “the man”. While Matt raises the inverse correlation of insurance and neighbor-liness, I thought of the apparent dependence of the citizen upon the government. This coincides with the advent of 24-hr news and the growing role of the President (FN2). This also coincides with the rise in lack of personalization complaints; the Government doesn’t care about ME because look what they put me through. In my experience, Katrina was the initial broadcasted and publicly accepted demand of “other responsibility”, but signs have been present going back to the mid-90s. Not to say we shouldn’t help our American and International neighbors, we should still assist as we can especially in major tragedy. Rather, self and community should be our first “go to”s. As Brett & Kate discussed (FN3), there are many reasons to avoid personal responsibility but it takes a man/neighbor to accept responsibility; especially as it relates to the neighborhood.

VR/ Peter

FN1: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/06/11/becoming-an-autonomous-man-in-an-other-directed-world/
FN2: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/2013/05/22/5f275ca0-c226-11e2-914f-a7aba60512a7_story.html
FN3: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/02/18/owning-up-to-mistakes/

10 Sue May 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm

We have a group of great men in our neighborhood. My husband travels almost weekly and I know, without a doubt, that I can call any of them if I need something when he’s gone. Sometimes they check in just to make sure that I’m ok. I feel blessed to be able to experience such a great neighborly warmth.

11 tim_lebsack May 24, 2013 at 12:42 pm

FANTASTIC article.
It’s kinda sad that nowadays when the guy across the way let’s his grass grow taller than we desire, instead of talking to him like a man, we notify the City Marshall. Abdication.

12 Peter May 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm

“They were the neighbors from hell.”

See.
Being a good neighbor is easy when you are one. Yet you just pointed out a problem I have never been able to resolve.
What to do when people are unwilling to change their behavior for the benefit of others? When they do not care if you have to wake up at 6am and they are being too loud at 2am? I actually moved from a place because of my neighbors even though I liked my neighborhood. Is that fair? I have to move because of the jerks next door? In a just world, they would be the ones that must go, not me.
Being a good neighbor is a two way street.

13 Hank May 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Excellent article Marcus. I really enjoy your articles on AofM.
I have fond memories of growing up and feeling a sense of community in the neighborhoods where we lived. Of course, that sense of community also had it downsides (as a kid) because we couldn’t get away with as much, knowing the neighbors would talk to my parents! (now I see that as an upside!).
My family moved into a new neighborhood last summer and have made it a goal to have each of our neighbors over for dinner, and at Christmas took “friendship tea” to each of our neighbors. The realization I’ve had, which plays into the lack of ‘community’ in a neighborhood, is how unbelievably busy we all are. We’ve literally been trying for two months to have dinner with a particular family next door, and have just now found a night that works for both of us. Unbelievable!

But in answer to your question, despite the challenges, I think it’s very important to be a good neighbor because we were created for relationships. When relationships are lacking, we miss out on so much. I want to know that when I’m traveling, that my wife could call my neighbor in an emergency, or that they would be keeping an eye on my house while we’re gone. It may sound overly simple, but it’s just the way it should be!

14 Jack May 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Great article! So true, I just moved to a new city and my neighborhood has a great sense of community. I was visited my first week by different neighbors who brought me vegetables out of their garden and even one elderly couple had made me a hand drawn map of the neighborhood with every one’s names and phone numbers they knew. My next door neighbor has a key to my house and he comes over and lets my dog out each day while I am at work, usually keeping him for several hours so he can play with his other dogs. I have made it a habit to wave to anyone who drives down the street and do things like take cookies my wife baked around to everyone in tins at Christmas time. As you can imagine despite being in a densely populated area we have virtually no crime.

15 Brad May 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Interesting and insightful article.

I wonder if we have been trained as a society not to be neighborly. In school, at city hall, and in most cultural centers, we teach that others can’t be trusted. If someone needs help, call 911. If someone is unemployed, send them to the unemployment office. If someone is hurt, send them to the hospital. If someone is lonely, send them to park and recreation. If someone is elderly, send them to the senior center. If someone’s house needs painted, call the Home Owners Association. There is no conviction to help each other with out an institution to do it “for us.”

I think this is a curse of the modern era. “Someone should do something about that.” Instead of, “What can I do to help you?”

We don’t know how to live in community and care for each other. We drive our cars into our garages, shut the door and ignore the people around us.

16 John T May 24, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Our neighborhood is very close knit and friendly. Most of us grew up in that type of area and wanted to give our kids the same experience. A neighbor moved away recently because he thought he needed a bigger house. I saw him in town a month later and he told me that it was a huge mistake and that he should have stayed and expanded his existing house. Both of my adult children have found areas to live that are similar to what they knew growing up and they are happy homeowners and good neighbors.

17 Steven May 24, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Very interesting article. I agree that as we grow older we become part of the community. When I was younger I arrogantly thought I would move to ‘classier’ places.

I also agree strongly with the second comment from Peter, a bad neighbour can make life a nightmare regardless of how ideal the neighbourhood is. I’d like to see an article on this actually. I was tearing my hair out last year with the situation and was constantly looking for articles on the subject.

18 EL May 24, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I grew up in an urban city and I had a neighbors all around me, but I never really noticed an effort from them or my parents to be neighborly. People get so involved with life’s routine I guess. Then I moved to a suburban area and the same result occured. Now that I have a family and value the advice above, I will make an effort to be neighborly because I know it will benefit the community.

19 Nenad May 24, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Be friendly, be polite, be helpful… be neighborly.

But don’t go too far and try to be a friend or family with someone just because you’re neighbors, let other factors decide about that.

Also, be wary of your neighbor’s well being, but RESPECT THEIR PRIVACY.

20 Tom Osborne May 25, 2013 at 2:22 am

I stopped reading this article completely, half-way through, because the author lost all credibility with me with this insane sentence: “If a 44-year old stranger said good morning to my 10-year-old daughter while she waited for the school bus, I would strongly encourage her to ignore him or even run away.” And yet he was upset over the zombie college student who ignored him completely when he gave his little head nod. Well, where does he think that comes from–from people like him, of course. So don’t now go preaching to others to suddenly become friendly when they have been taught from childhood to ignore, and even fear every single stranger. So this author is dead wrong. The lessen to the daughter is to be acknowledging of the friendliness and to respond in kind–us that so hard to do? What she should not do is, say, get into a car with the stranger, or go away with him. If he pesters her, then running away might be a good idea, but otherwise, what’s the problem? In other words, teach your children to use a little sense.

Sorry to say, the author is a generator of the very problem he claims to be an authority on correcting.

21 arnold m. May 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I’ve been in a city subdivision for about sixteen years with another large HOA subdivision behind our house. there have been three incidents with barking dogs all from different families, one who let two retrievers run the streets barking and chasing other peoples pets. Seems now days you have to notify the police or the HOA president to report people. Shift workers don’t want daytime/early morning barkers. People are basically selfish and don’t care about others.

22 Dagny Galt May 26, 2013 at 4:25 am

Once moved to a 100 acre farm as caretaker. Neighbors would frequently trespass and even ride their all-terrain vehicles in circles around the house. Carried a sidearm 24/7 on that job and it didn’t take long for word to get around ’bout the new sheriff in town. The trespass, harassment, noise, and damage to the crops and forests ceased and never was a problem again. An armed society is a polite society and fences make good neighbors. Go figure.

23 Erik May 26, 2013 at 7:24 am

I can write my own book about this. We used to live in a large university city and bought a house in a relatively small village three years ago. First thing we did when we signed the contracts and received the keys was to bring a bowl of freshly-baked muffins to the neighbours on both sides. My wife and I figured that since we bought the house, we’d be living there for at least ten years to come. We started renovating some weeks later and when the neighbours on one side got wind of that, they came to us and said “we’ll be on holiday for three weeks, so you can use our house for that time to bathe, sleep, cook, whatever you want.” City dwellers we were, and flabbergasted too. The neighbour on the other side turned up at 23:00 one night when he heard my exasperated curses at failing to waterproof some plumbing and helped me out. Introducing ourselves in a proactive manner got the neighbours interested and us greeting and chatting with anyone led to us being well-settled and hopefully reasonably well-liked in the neighbourhood. It’s like karma: You do some good, some more good comes back.

24 Daniel May 27, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Could you please do more of Dim and Dash? I love those.

25 Chris May 27, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I went to college in a small, but very well educated, friendly, and civic-minded town in West Virginia. I always describe it as having a disproportionate number of mature, thinking adults. Everyone in town knew everyone else, and everyone was/is involved in town affairs. Corporate businesses were banned from operating within town limits- no Starbucks, walmart, or franchises. Every business in town is privately owned, and all of the business owners live in town or the surrounding area. This has been a boon for the local economy. I learned in my economics class that the definition of “economy” is the flow of goods and services across a specified region. After college, I stayed in town and worked at a great restaurant (#1 in WV). I made good money at the restaurant, which I then spent on rent (in town), groceries (from local farmers and the local organic market in town), running gear (from the store in town), coffee (there was a roaster on my street and three local coffee shops), etc. The money that was/is made in town stayed in town and flowed across the region locally, keeping everyone prosperous.

Another stroke of genius for the community was that the post office does not deliver mail. Everyone had to walk to the post office, so everyone was out and about. The post office was essentially the town water cooler. It’s the best place I’ve ever lived. The community is incredibly tight-knit, friendly, and engaged.

26 John Lee May 27, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Being a good neighbor, and following the steps the author puts forth are good for the security of your neighborhood. While I’ve never been a neighbor waver myself, know who live in the neighborhood and who doesn’t is a great ideal. When you’re away for a few days its good to know someone will keep an eye on your house.

27 John May 28, 2013 at 10:23 am

This article really made me think and remember my childhood. When I was young, we had really horrible neighbors all around us. They never talked to us or acted kindly towards us, and some went out of their way to be rude to us. So, when a kind family moved in next door and was so nice and friendly, I was weary of them. I think that years of being treated badly by neighbors made me a bad neighbor.

28 Kylee May 28, 2013 at 10:29 am

@ Tom Osborne–Read the part of the article you’re criticizing again.

Today’s children are regularly taught “stranger-danger” in schools. This is not simply the author’s doing. Rather, he’s saying this is part of the challenge in being neighborly.

Young people, as they grow up, need to learn to overcome the “stranger-danger” teaching they’ve received in schools, in order to become good neighbors as adults.

29 Jose May 28, 2013 at 11:41 am

Great article.
Growing up in a small town I recall my father having a great relationship with the neighbors where I grew up. Whenever there was some heavy work to be done in someone’s home everyone in the neighborhood would go and give a hand. Whether it dealt with landscaping, roofing, fencing, etc. all the men would gather, help out and would follow up with a BBQ and some beers. There was always the one neighbor who was always “too busy” to help out. When this busy neighbor needed help with some major plumbing (an issue that had previously been resolved in other neighbors homes), he had to hire a professional.

Now that I’ve grown up and moved on to live in a large city, I can relate to this article and with many of the comments. Trying to meet your neighbors can be perceived as being creepy or nosy. From my experience, there is definitely a difference between a small town neighborhood and a large city suburban neighborhood.

30 guffaw May 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I may link to this in my blog (with attribution, of course!)
Funny you mention bottle rockets. Had a similar experience, with the neighbor calling the police.
Fortunately, we had ceased launching hours before. No evidence.
But, in today’s world, it seems we barely know or acknowledge our neighbors.
And we live in a townhouse!
If only we could revert to the 50s/60s neighborhood of my youth…

31 Alex May 28, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Oddly enough we seem to live in a very 50′s kind of neighborhood. We’re all in our 30′s and 40′s (with a few older folk thrown in). But we generally talk, share a few beers, look out for each other’s houses, borrow a few tools, etc. I think it’s mostly luck to tell the truth. There are people we know a block away who don’t have that relationship with their neighbors. But our block all seems to have people who are friendly and don’t mind stopping to talk for a few minutes.

32 Rich May 28, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I love the black and white photos on your website.

33 jerry May 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Jon…I think that drug use and its resulting mental illness has infected society.

34 Stan May 28, 2013 at 8:37 pm

“If a 44-year-old stranger said good morning to my 10-year-old daughter as she waited for the school bus, I would strongly urge her to ignore him, even to run away.”

I guess the flip side of that is that if a man wants to be manly, he had better avoid any children who might be around when he is walking down the street in his own neighborhood, otherwise he will be perceived as a pedophile or something similar. How offensive!

35 JeffC May 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm

@ Jon (post #27)— how could you be weary of your neighbors if they’d just moved in?

@ Jon (post #2)— “random acts of kindness” is a misnomer: they aren’t random at all, but chosen, and I think that is largely the point of the entire article.

36 Sam May 29, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Bought the book after this article was posted, and was inspired to invite neighbors from two houses over to our house for a bbq on Memorial Day. We had a nice time. I love the idea of at least getting contact names and numbers of everyone on your street, and distributing copies back. Great first step in the process of getting to know your neighbors.

37 TimJ May 29, 2013 at 5:14 pm

While I agree with most of what is written about in this article, something bothered me when I first read it, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. After rereading I figured it out: I find it odd that the author can observe that we have been trained to not engage with people, and that hurts our sense of community. But this paragraph is in there:

“In this day and age, children are correctly taught never to talk with people they don’t know. If a 44-year-old stranger said good morning to my 10-year-old daughter as she waited for the school bus, I would strongly urge her to ignore him, even to run away.”

When I read this, I was horrified.

1. It’s impossible to go through the world not talking to people you don’t know.
2. Kid’s shouldn’t be taught “don’t talk to adults you don’t know”; they should be taught a whole slew of skills centered around figuring out how to discern who should be trusted, and how to keep yourself safe.
3. He would tell his daughter to RUN AWAY from a 44 year old who waved and said “Hi” to her!? Are you serious? What kind of world do we live in where this paragraph is said in such a flip manner?

38 Nathan May 29, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Excellent article. A good neighborhood is definitely a place that we help “create” and setting a certain tone of sanity and friendly community, other people definitely appreciate. Reflecting on my own neighborhood, we have a great neighborhood and hopefully I contribute to being a good neighbor. Great thoughts.

39 Ara Bedrossian May 30, 2013 at 8:47 am

Buscaglia said: “I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate – it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.”
Marcus nailed this. When we don’t know our environment, there’s no way we can grow to the fullest extent. And we become alienated and apathetic about others. How can we care about people if we don’t know them? I was the same way when I was in college and for a number of years thereafter, waiting for others to make the move to start a conversation.

40 MJ May 30, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I am a firm believer that good fences make good neighbors.

41 Larry May 31, 2013 at 9:29 am

I live in a suburb of Dallas. The city regularly wins National Night Out involvement awards for cities our size. I tell people the particular neighborhood I live in feels like it’s back in the 50s. A few years ago the elderly lady next door passed away and myself and another neighbor took turns mowing the lawn and caring for the house while her out of town children wrapped up her affairs. 2 years ago I had a large limb from my tree break and was laying on my roof. I had a job interview scheduled that night and the interviewer was coming in from out of town and I could not cancel. I big wind storm was due to roll in later in the evening and I had planned on getting home just in time to throw the limb off my roof before the storm hit. But, a few of my neighbors came out with chainsaws and took the limb down, chopped it up and set it out for the city to pick up before I got home. I can’t imagine ever moving from this neighborhood.

42 Marcus Brotherton May 31, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Hi, I’m the author of this article. Thanks to everyone for the many kind and thoughtful comments.

It’s been interesting to see several readers camp on—and criticize—the line about a hypothetical 44-year-old man waving and saying hello to a 10-year-old girl when both are strangers, and the child being encouraged to ignore the stranger or even walk/run away.

I realize now that this may come as a paradigm shift for some, so I want to offer a few more thoughts here.

In generations past, adults interacting with children would have been considered no big deal. Your grandfather, for instance, wouldn’t have thought twice about rolling down his window to ask a kid where the nearest gas station was— if he was in the habit of asking for directions.

But today the basic rule is that adults (and particularly adult males) should not speak to children they don’t know, even in casual manner. (The caveat would be unless there is an identifiable point of contact such as a lemonade stand or a Girl Scout cookie booth, or if the children’s parents are around.)

If this sounds harsh, or if it sounds like I’m trying to perpetuate a culture of suspicion around adult males, please note that this is not me perpetuating this idea. It is schools, children’s clubs, children’s TV shows, and a whole host of well-intentioned “safety stranger” products designed for children.

See, for instance, the popular “Safe-Side Superchick” DVD series for children, narrated by Dan Walsh of America’s Most Wanted and produced by Julie Clark of the Baby Einstein company. The series teaches children to categorize people into at least three categories—1) safe, 2) don’t knows, and 3) kinda knows.

According to this series, if a child is approached on the street or in a store by a “don’t know,” then they are taught a variety of avoidance skills, including politely ignoring the stranger, running away if the stranger becomes aggressive, and even yelling out loudly “Help this is not my mom! Help this is not my dad!” Children are, however, not taught nor encouraged to engage with the adult stranger in any way, nor to answer questions directly.

We can argue all we want that the culture of “stranger danger” creates a culture of mistrust, yet my big point—like it or not—is this is what is being taught to children these days. And as adult-aged males, we need to know this. This is the new reality. Don’t speak to children you don’t know.

All in all, the larger point I was making in the article is that since the whole idea of “stranger danger” is being taught and perpetuated to today’s children, then the idea of being good neighbors is something that young people need to examine and re-learn as they move out of childhood and into adulthood. We need to learn how to become neighbors and engage with strangers since it doesn’t come automatically anymore.

Okay, hope that’s clearer now, and I continue to welcome any comments on this.

43 FakeKraid June 6, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Until income inequality and wealth inequality are sharply reduced in this country, no such thing is going to happen. Study after study after study have shown a frighteningly strong correlation between economic inequality and the breakdown of social relationships. So if you want to be a good neighbor, the first step is to do everything you can to narrow the yawning gap between rich and poor in this nation.

44 Dries June 7, 2013 at 4:29 am

This is a very interesting article and I wanted to read the book you reference. It is however a VERY Christian book, are there any resources without the religious approach? Thank you!

45 Starr Hardgrove June 7, 2013 at 10:44 am

This is an amazing post that may just change the world. I really loved it. It’s so simple to say “Good Morning” to people. Revolutionary.

46 andar_b June 9, 2013 at 7:33 pm

I am the sort of person to try to think the best of others… but I live in a complex where there has been at least one shooting and several violent confrontations in the last year. I keep to myself, and encourage my family to do the same, since we have no alternative for the time being. I try to be neighborly where interaction is required, but if the neighbor is being a nuisance at 2 AM, I’m not going to go say something, I’m going to call Security. I’d rather not have my family threatened by an idiot who now knows which neighbor was harshing his high.

Thankfully the management has been working tirelessly to get the bad apples out. Their only real trouble is that they can’t keep good tenants in this neighborhood.

47 Shipmate June 9, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I enjoyed the article and the comments. I grew up in friendly neighborhoods in the northeast– mostly Italian neighbors, although I’m not Italian. I remember reading an article in 1972 in “Science News” about a small town in Pennsylvania. The decades-long science study researched why the mostly Italian population had a low incidence of heart disease (I think it was heart disease), even though the general diet was unremarkable. After studying the town for decades, scientists concluded that the townspeople were extremely close to each other and very secure, which created much less stress, and much less hypertension. Unfortunately, by the time the study concluded, the town had deconstructed with deaths and grown children moving away.
If there’s a moral to this story, I think it’s that creating friendly neighborhoods is good for your health.
(Based on my upbringing, I was brought up to smile or say hello as you passed by others on the street or in the hallway. However, in the big city, many people do not respond. Personally, I think that’s the height of rudeness. Basic childhood manners are: “Say Please & Thank You, and ALWAYS return a greeting.)

48 Stan June 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Excellent and helpful post! Being a good neighbor is a bigger challenge when you’re an apartment renter in an urban area. Not only is there a higher turnover of renters as opposed to mortgage holders, but many of the people who live in lower rent housing do customer service and shift work to pay the bills. That means they’re in and out at all different hours.
Having said that, neighbors passing in hallways react as well to a smile and hello as neighbors over fences.

49 Josh June 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm

I’ve never quite understood this paranoia that parents feel they need to teach their children about strangers, and I suspect it’s largely to blame for our modern lack of neighborly concern. This attitude would be considered insane for most of human history (post-civilization), and crime rates are lower now than they’ve ever been. Statistically, a child faces far more danger from a relative or family friend than a stranger. I’m talking stats like 10% of children being sexually abused, but less than a dozen active pedophiles (i.e. the “Free Candy” type) in a nation of 300+ million people. If I were raised with an irrational fear of other people, why would I be concerned with their well being, other than to hope against it?

50 Craig June 17, 2013 at 10:59 am

I offered to help my stand off’ish neighbor move a china hutch into his house as he was taking it out of the back of his truck. As I walked over to help him, he held up his arm and told me that, ‘no he did not need any help’. So I stood there and watched him, and his 55 year old wife, move this 250lb piece of furniture through his garage, into his kitchen. What a putz for making his wife do this. I’m sure she thought he was a putz as well, even though she didn’t say anything.

51 Nessa June 24, 2013 at 10:54 am

That’s a good post, thank you for writing it. Our parents would encourage us to help any of the neighbors out when they needed it, especially if it was an elderly neighbor.

If you’re moving into a larger city, near its innards, you should be cautious. It’s not Mayberry all over the world and yes, help all you can and build a community, but be sensible. I’ve seen people do some interesting things w/out regard to slowing down for a second (such as stop by a car w/4ways on in the dark without realizing it has no tags and the driver is a little more than shady). Don’t be scared, just be prepared.

52 Mrs Robinson July 14, 2013 at 11:08 pm

This is a great post.

When I moved to Seattle three years ago, several people warned me about “the Seattle Freeze,” that passive-aggressive cold edge that’s allegedly characteristic of society here.

I haven’t seen it. Instead, we moved onto a street that’s rolling in social capital. The first two weeks we were here, every single neighbor on our block stopped by to welcome us, bringing bottles of wine, flowers, potted plants, and (on one memorable afternoon) a fresh-baked pie. We were very quickly added to the street’s e-mail list. Over the next year, I think we attended three or four block-wide parties.

Freeze? Hell, no. I grew up in a small town where stuff like this happened; but I’ve lived up and down the West Coast from San Diego to Vancouver, and this is the first time I’ve seen it.

Our neighbors are a very international group, and do a lot of traveling. I sent a photo of their yard (the first spring crocuses) to the next-door neighbors while they were gone for three months to India. When the folks across the street were visiting family in Russia, we tracked them down to let them know their solar hot water system was leaking dangerously, and arranged to get it fixed for them.

It’s that kind of street, and evidently has been for decades. We lucked out hugely, and I can’t begin to estimate how much being part of this community has added not only to the value of our house, but to our real, soul wealth as well.

53 ttopher July 15, 2013 at 3:05 am

Superb posting – and so encourging to see so many people engaged in the subject.

I live in what is meant to be a ‘community’ (of formerly homeless people). We don’t look out for each other the way you descrbe – but we ought to. I may use this post (and responses) to ‘educate’ the 40-some-odd others I live with.

Thank You….

54 Korin July 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Having a good neighbor can really make an impact. I just moved to a new city, and the neighbor knocked on the door the other day to talk to my roommate about something. (who wasn’t home at the time) We talked for a bit, and she gave me a book to read that she thought i might like. It was a small interaction, but it was really nice and it made me feel more welcome in a new place.

55 Cody August 9, 2013 at 3:41 am

What do you think about fences. I notoced that in the south and south east there are nearly no fences. In the PNW where I live everything is fenced. I lived in a house for 8 years and never met any of my neighbors.

56 Shane November 7, 2013 at 12:05 am

Although I am only 18 years old, I feel that having a father who is currently 68 years old has helped me understand the whole idea of being neighborly. For example we have a neighbor whose husband passed away about 3 years ago, and I do all of her yard work and other stuff that her husband may have done and she’ll have a barbecue for us. Or whenever my father invites the guy next door over for a beer, or helps the 80+ year old woman down the street whose husband passed away a few months ago. Or even something as simple as having a conversation with somebody who lives close to you for a few minutes. Personally I believe being neighborly helps build bonds and you both help each other out when and if you need it.

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