Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about neighbors a little more than I usually do. I began doing so after hearing a news story about 3 women who were kidnapped and then held captive for 10 years in a house in Cleveland. The general public and the media have asked how these women could be held in a house in a very populated neighborhood for a decade without the neighbors noticing. In thinking about my own situation, I wonder if I would notice if one of my neighbors was holding someone captive.
How well do I know my neighbors? How much attention do I pay to the things I see and hear in my neighborhood? I don’t know about you, but I’m dissatisfied with my answers to these questions.
Over the last several decades, Americans have experienced a decline in their sense of connectedness with their neighbors. Today, many Americans will not ask their neighbors for a cup a sugar to complete a recipe, much less trust them to housesit or keep an eye on their kids. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, 28% of Americans do not know a single one of their neighbors by name. What’s changed? I think a number of factors have contributed to the decline in connectedness.
- Mobility. People often live in several locations throughout their lives. This is a somewhat new trend—people used to grow up and raise their own children in the vicinity of where they were born. As a result of these frequent moves, people don’t put down as deep of roots in their communities as they once did.
- Hyper-individualism. Our society has changed from one that emphasizes the worth of the community to one that emphasizes the worth of the individual. Subsequently, people tend to be engrossed with themselves and are less motivated to invest in their neighbors.
- Diversity. Due to the increased diversity in our culture, it is not unusual to live next door to a family who speaks a different language than you do. Neighbors also often differ in their religious beliefs, political outlooks, and preferred recreational activities. These differences don’t mean the neighbors can’t grow close, but it may take greater effort.
- Technology and social media. Americans spend a lot of time in front of TVs and computers instead of participating in outdoor activities, which might provide opportunities to meet and interact with neighbors. The advent of social media provided Americans with an opportunity to bypass geography when forming relationships. People don’t have to befriend their neighbors because they can pick and choose friends who live anywhere in the world.
- The built environment. The efficiency of modern air conditioning units means fewer Americans congregate on their porches in the evenings. The corresponding opportunities to see and socialize with neighbors have also ceased. In some settings, lot sizes and houses have increased in size, so neighbors have greater physical distances between them.
Does this decrease in connectedness have good, bad, or neutral impacts? Given the nature of the news story that initiated my recent thoughts on neighbors, I’m concerned that the impacts are negative. Why is it important to be connected to our neighbors?
- Love and service. Scripture teaches us to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40). We know from the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that the term “neighbor” refers to a broad range of individuals, not just those who live next door. However, it does still refer to those who live next door! We are in unique positions to serve and love those who live around us because of their proximity.
- Safety. Threats to our safety are numerous and prevalent. Neighbors can play a key role in mitigating these threats by checking in with one another, watching for strange activity in the neighborhood, and keeping an eye on each other’s properties and children.
- Convenience. Time and money can often be saved when neighbors borrow tools and equipment from each other instead of each household owning its own. Similarly, it’s nice to be able to assist each other in yard projects or in jump starting a car when one of you has a dead battery.
Ways to get to know your neighbors
Many lists of ways to get to know your neighbors have already been compiled. You can view some of these by following the links listed below:
Who Are My Neighbors by About.com
7 Ways to Get to Know Your Neighbors by metropolitanmama.net
14 Ways to Love Your Neighbors by navigators.org
My husband and I find ourselves in a situation where it is challenging to get to know our neighbors. We often grow frustrated with them because they play their music at loud volumes and toss their cigarettes and other trash into our yard. Have you ever experienced something similar? Next week we’ll look at some ways to build positive relationships out of these challenging situations.
How connected are you with your neighbors? How have you fostered connections with them?