“Like a good neighbor …”
It’s likely you can sing along and complete the line to that jingle from a well-known television commercial but the more difficult task is understanding what it means to be a good neighbor and to implement that in our lives: to actually be a good neighbor.
Jesus famously answered the question “who is my neighbor?” in the story of the Good Samaritan, teaching that a good neighbor is one who demonstrates compassion and mercy toward others. We might find it hard to demonstrate compassion and mercy toward someone we don’t know and, sadly, research suggests that a third of us have no interactions with our neighbors. This makes it difficult to build safe, fun, cohesive, just, and equitable neighborhoods and communities.
There are many steps we can take to become better neighbors and support the community around us. Let’s consider a few simple actions we can take to strengthen our blocks and our neighborhoods.
Start by gaining an understanding of your place
Take regular walks along your street, around your block, or through your neighborhood. Get a sense for the rhythms and patterns around you: when does the neighbor three houses down walk her dog? What types of trees line your street? When is the mail delivered? What are the most common animals found in your area?
When you develop a strong sense of place you will also develop a deeper appreciation for it and connection to it. You’ll be more inclined to pick up that newspaper insert that’s wrapped around the STOP sign at the corner, you’ll move your car so it doesn’t block the driveway and inhibit your dog-walking neighbor, and you’ll begin to recognize the small things that bring beauty and uniqueness to the place you inhabit.
We need to take the initiative to meet our neighbors and learn their names
This sounds basic because it is. Making the effort to meet our neighbors and learn their names makes it possible for us to begin to act neighborly toward them. It demonstrates respect for them and an interest in who they are and what they value.
As you come across your neighbors more regularly make an effort to remember details about them. Learn their children or grandchildren’s names, discover how long they’ve lived in your neighborhood, ask about the new addition they put on their house or the change to the landscaping they did recently, and say hi to the family dog.
“a good neighbor is one who demonstrates compassion and mercy toward others”
In addition, take the opportunity to introduce your neighbors to each other, mentioning what they have in common. Asking questions and learning more about your neighbor’s lives, and creating connections among those in your community, will strengthen your emerging friendships and deepen the trust between you and your neighbors.
Then it’s time to get social
A great way to develop those deeper bonds with your neighbors is to schedule an event and invite them over. Men and women in our neighborhood have taken the initiative to schedule a monthly dad’s night out at our local brewery, a book club for women, potluck dinners, movie nights, and annual block parties. These and other events have brought neighbors together and helped to form a supportive community.
Finally, of course, demonstrate kindness, respect, and compassion for your neighbors
This begins with the little things, such as greeting your neighbors by name and with a smile. It extends beyond merely the courteous—avoiding lawn-mowing at 7 am on a Saturday morning, not parking in your neighbors parking spot, or refraining from loud music late at night—to helping them carry in the heavy bags of groceries when you see they’ve returned from shopping, or providing them with a lift to run an errand when their car is in the shop, or watching their children for a couple hours so they can be with a hospitalized friend.
When I think of good neighbors I’m reminded of the events following the stillbirths of our twin daughters. Friends, colleagues, and neighbors came to the memorial service for our girls, brought us food for several weeks, gave us gift cards to restaurants, arranged for lawn service so we didn’t have to worry about mowing the lawn while we grieved, sent us cards, prayed for us, and had a stone engraved with our daughter’s names at our local library, among other kind and loving acts.
“When I think of good neighbors I’m reminded of the events following the stillbirths of our twin daughters.”
When I think of what it means to be a good neighbor I’m reminded of these wonderful friends, colleagues, and neighbors and I am grateful for the love, mercy, and compassion they demonstrated to me and my family.
They truly demonstrated what Christ taught about being a neighbor and I hope that I can emulate their example.
(Adapted from the editor’s note in STAND 07.)