Do You Know Your Neighbors? (Losing the Neighborhood)

Rooftops.
When we were young, a smiling Mr. Rogers asked us to be his neighbor. He taught me more than to put popcorn in my peanut butter and jelly. He taught me to believe in community, to smile and make friends. To be kind to strangers.

Does anyone in real life have neighbors like our friends on TV do?

Lucy and Ricky had Ethel and Fred. Fred and Wilma had Betty and Barney. Wilson was always available for a strange metaphorical lesson for the Taylor family on Home Improvement. George Feeney was always willing to lend an ear on Boy Meets World, Joey and Chandler were right across the hall whenever Monica and Rachel needed some friendly banter, and Winnie Cooper will always be the epitome of the girl next door. 

Although many of these TV friendships were created for easy plot conventions, I can’t help but think about how people treated their neighbors 40-50 years ago. When you could easily skip across the street to borrow a cup of milk or trust your kids to go knock on the neighbor’s door to ask their kids to play. When you could ask your neighbor to help you with some handy work or when bbqs and Friday night happy hours were shared events. 

I’ve never interacted with a neighbor that way and that makes me sad. 

A 2013 study by State Farm shows that only 25% of American know the names of their next door neighbors. 

What happened to our sense of community? And how is it hurting us?

We’re all too busy inside with our “social” media and Netflix binges. Our focus is on individualism and in turn our needs are more selfish and our sense of responsibility to community have gone way down. We are more alienated now then we have ever been. Also, we are all full of mistrust and weariness. We live in a world where we have every right to be scared of our neighbors.

Is our focus on individualism and our  mistrust of others linked? I certainly believe so.

Ryan and I live in a condo/townhome community, surrounded by hundreds of neighbors. We walk the walking trails and pass the same neighbors again and again, greeting with a slight nod of the head or a half-smile. Despite all of this, I know the names of only one couple that lives across the street. And it’s all because they made the effort.

They came over and greeted us when we moved in two years ago. They smiled big smiles and insisted that if we ever needed anything, they were there. It was comforting. Six months later they saw us moving in some new used furniture we bought off Craigslist and they very kindly gifted us a beautiful dresser and mirror they were trying to sell. Every morning they greet me with a bellowing “Hello, Katie!” Since then I’ve introduced myself to a few other neighbors and have been met with a little apprehension on their end. 

Sometimes when I take Maggie out at night, barefoot in my pajamas, I become overcome with anxiety that I’ve locked myself out of the house. My keys and cellphone safely locked inside while I’m abandoned out in the cold in my ugliest pajamas. Who’s door would I knock on to let me use their phone? Who should I trust? Who would trust me?

I try to hold the belief that most people are good at heart. But it’s hard for that hope to withstand when you read the news.

Our alienation and individualism is cutting down our civic duty. In this highly connected world we are very disconnected from those closest to us. Our neighbors. When shootings happen in schools and neighborhoods are threatened with homicides and robberies and community riots get out of hand are reaction is to hide and blockade ourselves rather than work together for a common good.

Isn’t putting aside our differences and working together for a common good what our nation was founded on? I can’t help but see that if we started to rebuild that connection with our community, if we started to bond together and help one another, our mistrust will also lessen. 

How do we put the “neighbor” back into the “hood”? So tell me, do you know your neighbors? Are you involved in your community?