By Shae Kitchen
The poet John Donne once said that “no man is an island” and yet we have found ourselves living increasingly isolated lives. On a national scale, we are witnessing communities hunkering down and drawing lines in the sand, often refusing to engage with anyone outside of their respective bubbles. These bubbles have the power to disconnect us from each other, creating walls where there naturally should be bridges. We are all linked as human beings, so what affects one person or a group of people affects all of us. Our greatest strengths emerge when we act together to improve the life of every person. That is what it means to be neighborly —to love someone as a brother or sister regardless of our differences.
This goal requires that work be done on the local level. This is where the mission of Good Neighbor and organizations like it emerge and take action. We believe that developing neighborly communities is essential to the betterment of humanity, and a major decree of Jesus’s mission for this earth.
Being neighborly does not always mean making grand gestures. Sometimes the smallest moments, like a smile and a genuine hello, can be instrumental in helping someone get through a tough day. Here are five small ways that you can be a good neighbor today:
1.) Respect Your Space
Keep your space looking nice. Plant flowers, do some landscaping. Not only is this a way to express yourself, but spending a lot of time outside naturally results in contact with other people. If you live in an apartment, keep the area around your front door clean and tidy. Put out some real (or fake, no one’s judging) plants, and throw out a welcome mat. Little touches like these never fail to make the place feel more homey. Even a welcome mat by itself can transform a front door space into a welcoming venue. This may seem like a small task, and it is, but by respecting your immediately visible space you are showing that you respect yourself, your space, and the space of your immediate neighbors.
2.) Introduce Yourself
It is never too late to introduce yourself to your neighbors. Learning someone’s name is the first step to forming any type of relationship and makes future interactions much smoother. Also, try very hard to remember their names. If you are having a hard time hearing or pronouncing their name, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat it. Showing that you remember someone’s name tells that person that you were actively listening to what they were saying, and makes people more likely to interact with you later on.
3.) Ask Someone How They’re Doing — Then Actually Listen to Their Answer
Have you ever had one of those moments in a conversation where you just know the person isn’t interested in anything you have to say, and is only asking to seem polite? We call it “small talk” because that is what it is, small and relatively mediocre conversations. Put an end to it. You don’t need this in your life. Practice active listening: look people in the eye when they are talking, respond to what they are saying and build upon it. Stay connected and stay present in the moment. Ask follow up questions and listen to the answers that they give you. Of course, if the other person is just not interested in talking further, don’t push the issue. Even so, remain friendly. Your consistency may be just the thing to bring some people out of their shells. This seems like a lot to think about in conversation, and if you are someone with social anxiety this task may seem unachievable. Just remember that active listening is a skill that is developed with time and experience. Be patient with yourself, and step outside of your comfort zone.
4.) Offer and Receive Help Generously
If you see your neighbor struggling with groceries or a heavy box, take a moment and offer to help them with their load. They may reject your offer, but that isn’t the point. The point is to notice when someone around you is having a hard time and take action to help lighten their burden. Likewise, when someone offers to help you with your load, remember to thank them for their willing hearts. This second measure can be more difficult than the first, especially if you are the type of person who leans more towards giving than receiving. In allowing someone to help you, you gift the giver a sense of worth and value in service.
5.) Attend or Host a Community Event
This requires a great deal more dedication in terms of time and energy than the other ideas. Block parties and community events, however, are a rare occasion that neighbors have to come together. These are moments to fully embrace and enjoy each other’s company. If these events are being held in your neighborhood, definitely take the time to make an appearance. If no planned block parties are happening near you AND you have the time and energy to invest in planning an event, feel free to take on the responsibility yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable hosting events at your own home, centers of community like the Good Neighbor House are always a solid resource. The Good Neighbor house, specifically, is intended to be such a space, with the explicit goal of bringing the Sanger Heights community together.
Being a good neighbor doesn’t always require a major time commitment. It does, however, require you to be intentional in your interactions with other people. By being consistently kind, considerate, and (for a lack of a better term) neighborly, you set an example for others to follow. This example may ripple outwards, encouraging people to act in similarly kind ways.
These are just a few examples of how you can be a good neighbor today and in your daily life. If you have some ideas that we have missed, let us know on our Facebook page, and if you found some of these tips helpful, please share this post with your friends. We’d be very grateful.